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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Cleveland

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Cleveland in 2016

10 – Nolan Jones
43 – Logan Ice
51 – Aaron Civale
57 – Will Benson
95 – Ulysses Cantu
138 – Michael Tinsley
149 – Conner Capel
176 – Andrew Lantrip
195 – Trenton Brooks
226 – Shane Bieber
250 – Gavin Collins
356 – Zach Plesac

Complete List of 2016 Cleveland Draftees

1.14 – OF Will Benson

The draft works in funny ways. Will Benson (57) going in the first round (pick 14) seemed like a bit of a reach to me on draft day. Not a bad pick by any stretch and easily justifiable (huge raw power, electric bat speed, solid runner, built like a tank, huge arm…yeah, I get it), but not a pick I might have made when Cleveland made it. I probably would have gone with a different high school hitter with that first round pick. Maybe somebody like Nolan Jones, a prospect I ranked tenth overall yet inexplicably (well, money explains some of it) fell all the way to pick 55…when Cleveland snapped him up with their second rounder. If I knew nothing of how draft day played out and you told me that Cleveland landed both Jones and Benson at the conclusion of the first two rounds, it would be cause for major celebration. Choosing to look at their first two picks that way makes me feel better about Cleveland’s draft — and I already really, really like this draft — so that’s exactly what I’ll do. I’ll also look at what Benson and Jones did in their pro debuts…

.209/.321/.424 – 12.0 BB% and 32.6 K% – 184 PA – 112 wRC+
.257/.388/.339 – 17.2 BB% and 36.6 K% – 134 PA – 118 wRC+

…to note the similarities between the two teenagers. They aren’t twins, but there’s no denying certain commonalities. No overarching attempt at a point here, just thought it was neat. Neat is a fine word to describe a bunch of words about Benson from this past spring. First, from April 2016…

The name Will Benson brings about all kinds of colorful opinions from those paid to watch him regularly. To call him a divisive prospect at this point would be an understatement. If you love him, then you love his power upside, defensive aptitude, and overwhelming physicality. If you’re cool on him, then he’s more of a future first baseman with a questionable hit tool, inconsistent approach, and overrated athleticism. I’m closer to the love side than not, but I think both the lovers and the haters can at least agree that his bat speed is explosive, his frame is intriguing, and his sheer strength as a human being should beget some monstrous BP performances. He’d be the rare type of hitter who could make Petco look small.

Then again from May 2016…

I never really got the Jason Heyward comp for Benson – the most Heyward thing about Heyward is his plus defense, something that Benson is a long way from, if he ever gets there at all – but I like the connection between him and Kyle Lewis. I don’t think he lasts until the second, but he would make for an excellent consolation prize for a team picking at the top of the first round that misses out on the Mercer star with their first pick. Or just grab them both and begin hoping that you’ve just taken care of your outfield corners for the next decade.

I’ll toot my own horn on the Kyle Lewis/Will Benson connection. I think that’s a good one. A riskier Lewis with considerable upside and a very real bust factor. In isolation, that’s probably too risky a pick for me in the mid-first; thankfully, drafts run longer than one round and all subsequent selections are connected thanks to the current (stupid) draft bonus system. Underslot deals in round one (Benson!), two (supplemental), three, four, seven, eight, nine, and ten helped pay the overslot bonus second round pick Jones required. Beyond just dollars and cents, drafts have to be viewed as complete entities because (smart) teams draft with talent diversification (position, level of competition, age, etc.) in mind. Cleveland went relatively safe with their pitching (college-heavy, emphasis on command over stuff) while taking bigger swings on offensive guys (lots of high variance prep and juco talent). The overall portfolio is one of my favorites across the league and that’s with a first round pick I didn’t love. The draft works in funny ways.

2.55 – 3B Nolan Jones

I saw a lot of Nolan Jones (10) over the last eighteen months or so. I’ve written about Jones a lot in that same time span. I’m not sure what else I have to add, so I’ll let the pre-evaluation stand on its own…

First off, I’m incredibly biased when it comes to Jones. I’m pleased to admit that out front because said admission of bias was well worth getting to watch him play a bunch this spring at Holy Ghost Prep. Getting the chance to see a young man with his kind of talent thirty minutes play his home games thirty minutes from the office was an incredible experience. Jones is an electrifying player who really can do it all as a prospect. In about twenty minutes of game time in his most recent appearance, he was able to hit a homer (one of two on the day), swipe a bag, and turn a slick double play at short. That run was topped only by an earlier game when he smoked the ball every time up before ending the game in extras with an opposite field rocket that cleared the fence in left. He’s outstanding. I think the sky is the limit for him as a professional ballplayer. I’ve seen him more frequently than any other top prospect in this class, which gives me a little more insight to his strengths and weaknesses as a player (whether or not said insight should be trusted is up to the reader) but also presents a challenge in fighting human nature. It’s only natural to want to see a player you’ve come to watch and appreciate throughout the past year succeed going forward. My assessment of him as a player won’t help him or hurt him in any conceivable way, but there’s definitely some subconscious work going on that pushes players we’re more familiar with up the board.

Of course, all of those firsthand observations can be a double-edged sword when it comes down to doing what I attempt to accomplish with this site. My process for evaluating players here includes all kinds of inputs, the least critical of which being what I see with my own two eyes. It’s not that I lack confidence my own personal evaluations; quite the opposite, really, so realizing that my ego needs to be in check brings me to not wanting to fall into the trap that has led to more botched first round picks than any other singular mistake. The easiest way to ruin all the hard work of so many is to have one supposed “expert” come in and make decisions with little regard to the opinions of the group. When a general manager overrules the collective decision of the scouting staff to select a first round player that he has fallen in love with after just a few short views, the resulting pick is almost always a disaster. It’s admittedly a rare occurrence – there’s a reason real analysis of a team’s drafting record gets pinned on the scouting director and not the general manager – but it does happen. Whether it’s ego, pressure to find a quick-mover to potentially save jobs (including his own), or actual conviction in the prospect (the most palatable option for sure, but still tough to stomach when dealing with small firsthand scouting samples), it happens.

Long story short: I don’t want to be like one of those GM’s. I like trusting what I read and hear, both publicly and privately, because those are the closest analogues to a “scouting staff” that any one outsider like me can hope to assemble. That will never stop me from going to games and showcases to form my own opinions, but I’d prefer to use those to supplement the larger scouting dossier assembled than to make up the basis of it. In many ways I consider what I see up close as a tie-breaker and not much more.

It is, however, quite nice when what I’ve heard is backed up by what I’ve seen. That’s exactly what has happened with Jones this spring. The total package is awfully enticing: chance for a legit plus hit tool (lightning fast hands, advanced pitch recognition, consistent hard contact), plus arm strength (confirmed via the eye and the low-90s fastballs on the gun) that is also uncannily accurate, average or better run times, prodigious raw power (have seen him go deep to all fields this spring), and loads of athleticism. I’d even go so far as to suggest he’s shown enough in the way of shortstop actions to at least get certain teams thinking about letting him try to stay up the middle for a bit, but that might be pushing it. Recent big shortstops like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have reversed the trend somewhat, but I still think Jones would be best served getting third base down pat as a pro.

Finding reasonable comps for a lefthanded hitting third baseman – which, naturally, just so happens to be what our top three prospects here happen to be – is unreasonably challenging. I’ll start with the WHOA (not to be confused with wOBA, BTW) comp and work backwards.

One older fan – not a scout, not a Holy Ghost Prep booster, but just a fan of the game – was at frequent games this spring. I got friendly enough with the gentleman, around the same age (late-60s) as my father if I had to guess, over the course of the spring that he felt good about dropping an Eddie Mathews comp on Jones as an all-around player. Now that’s a name that gets your attention. My dad raves about Mathews’s physical tools to this day. All of the numbers suggest that he’s on the very short list of best lefthanded third basemen ever to play the game, so that’s not a comparison to be taken lightly. I’ll repeat that it was coming from a fan – though, again, not one with a vested interest in the team or the player, only the sport – and I’m nowhere near qualified to say whether or not he was on the right path with such a lofty comp, but, hey, Hall of Fame comps are fun, so there you go.

Two additional names that came up that I think fit the lefthanded hitting third base profile pretty well were Hank Blalock (strictly as a hitter, though I think the raw power difference between the two makes this one questionable) and Corey Koskie. The Koskie comparison is one I find particularly intriguing. Koskie, a criminally underrated player during his time, was good for a career 162 game average of .275/.367/.458 with 20 HR, 12 SB, and 75 BB/130 K. We’re totally pulling numbers out of thin air with any amateur prospect projection – doubly so with teenagers – but that seems like a reasonable hope based on what I’ve seen out of Jones. Offense like that combined with plus defense at third would make one heck of a player in today’s game. For reference’s sake, that’s almost like a better version of late-career Adrian Beltre. Of course, the mention of Beltre is not meant to serve as a direct comparison but rather a potential production comp.

Now if I wanted to drop a righthanded hitting third baseman comparison on Jones that wasn’t Beltre, I think I’d go with a young Ryan Zimmerman. His 162 game average to date: .282/.347/.473 with 25 HR, 5 SB, and 64 BB/124 K. Not entirely dissimilar to Koskie, right? A young Zimmerman/Koskie type is a tremendously valuable player, with those two each clocking in right around 4.0 fWAR average (Zimmerman a bit more, Koskie a hair less) during years of club control. Going back to our lefthanded third base comp in Koskie brings us to this final “hey, maybe Jones should be a top five pick in this class” moment of the day. Koskie, the 715th overall pick in 1994, finished his career with 24.6 rWAR. That total would have placed him fourth behind only Javier Vazquez (46.0), Nomar Garciaparra (44.2), and Paul Konerko (27.6) in his draft class. He’s just ahead of Jason Varitek (24.3) and AJ Pierzynski (24.0). My non-comprehensive look on the Fangraphs leaderboards has him ahead of all but Vazquez and Garciaparra. We live in a world where Corey Koskie ranked in the top three (or four) in a given draft class, so why not Nolan Jones?

Why not Nolan Jones, indeed.

2.72 – C Logan Ice

On Logan Ice (43) back in April 2016…

.365/.460/.533 – 22 BB/5 K
.360/.483/.697 – 20 BB/5 K

Top is Matt Thaiss this year, bottom is Logan Ice so far. It’s no wonder that a friend of mine regularly refers to Ice as “Pacific NW Thaiss.” That sounds so made up, but it’s not. Anyway, Ice is a really good prospect. He’s received some national acclaim this season, yet still strikes me as one of the draft’s most underrated college bats. There are no questions about his defense behind the plate – coming into the year many considered him to be a catch-and-throw prospect with a bat that might relegate him to backup work – and his power, while maybe not .700 SLG real, is real. I don’t think a late-first round selection is unrealistic, but I’ll hedge and call him a potential huge value pick at any point after the draft’s first day. I can’t wait to start stacking the college catching board; my hunch is that prospect who comes in tenth or so would be a top three player in most classes. My only concern for Ice – a stretch, admittedly – is that teams will put off drafting college catchers early because of the belief that they can wait and still get a good one later.

Let’s update that Thaiss/Ice comparison with their final junior year stats…

.375/.473/.578 – 39 BB/16 K – 232 AB
.310/.432/.563 – 37 BB/25 K – 174 AB

Pretty close! Thaiss went sixteenth overall and was transitioned immediately to first base in the pros. Ice fell to the seventy-second pick and remains a catcher. I still think Thaiss is the better hitter and the better all-around prospect by a hair — and I think he should continue to catch, but nobody asked me — but the non-theoretical defensive differences between the two certainly gives fans of Ice a legitimate claim that he’s the more valuable asset going forward. Being better than Matt Thaiss isn’t what will make or break Ice’s career (obviously), but it’s a fun benchmark to come back to as the two young men embark on what should be long, successful pro careers.

3.92 – RHP Aaron Civale

As a world-renowned internet draft writer, I’d like to think my credibility is such that any and all accusations of bias can easily be refuted by my sterling track record of good old fashioned tellin’-it-like-it-is-ness. I’m practically perfect, really. One teeny tiny dark spot on my record is a strange affinity for pitchers out of Northeastern. It’s the baseball life debt I owe former Husky Adam Ottavino that I pledged to him — unbeknownst to him, naturally — after witnessing my first and only live no-hitter above the high school level. Maybe that explains why I liked Aaron Civale (51) as much as I do. Or maybe it’s because he’s an outstanding young pitcher who can throw four pitches for strikes with the kind of pitchability more typically seen in ten-year big league veterans. Civale’s assortment of hard stuff (upper-80s two-seam, low-90s four-seam up to 95, and above-average to plus upper-80s cutter/slider hybrid) beautifully complements his slightly softer stuff (above-average 78-82 curve with plus upside, occasional changeup, and he has a long track record of sterling command and control (1.93 BB/9 in 2015, 1.18 BB/9 in 2016). Civale is what you get when you combine a traditional Cleveland amateur draft pitching prospect (command! control!) with the big-time stuff the 29 other teams seemingly prioritize.

4.122 – RHP Shane Bieber

Consistency is a good thing when you’re consistently good. That’s a saying I heard once that I thought was kind of stupid, but it seems applicable here. Look at these numbers…

7.57 K/9 – 1.04 BB/9 – 112.2 IP – 2.23 ERA
7.22 K/9 – 1.13 BB/9 – 119.2 IP – 2.86 ERA
7.88 K/9 – 0.75 BB/9 – 24.0 IP – 0.38 ERA

That’s Shane Bieber (226) as a sophomore, Shane Bieber as a junior, and Shane Bieber in his pro debut. I’d say consistently good is an apt qualifying remark. If you knew nothing of his stuff, I think you’d get some idea of what kind of pitcher he was just by looking at that line and knowing that Cleveland, the most command loving drafting team around, identified him as a pitcher of interest. Thankfully, we don’t have to sit around and guess at his stuff. Here’s some Bieber chatter from March 2016…

This post would have been lengthier, but a way too long love letter to Justin Bieber’s latest album has been deleted. After a few drinks I might share my working theory on how Bieber is the evolutionary Justin Timberlake, but we’ll table that for now. We’ll actually go a step further and declare this site a NO BIEBER joke zone henceforth. That’s the first last time I’ll connect Justin to Shane Bieber all spring. Shane is a fascinating enough prospect to talk about even without the musical interludes.

He was a pre-season FAVORITE who hasn’t yet missed a ton of bats at the college level, but I’ll continue to tout his 85-90 (92 peak) sinking fastball, above-average yet still frustratingly inconsistent 79-85 changeup, and true hybrid 78-81 breaking ball as the right type of mix of a big league starting pitcher. We’ve seen college righthanders with below-average fastball velocity, intriguing offspeed stuff, plus command, and above-average athleticism and deception go high on draft day before, and Bieber could follow suit. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if he was missing more bats, but the overall package is still enticing. It’s the Thomas Eshelman starter kit.

First, I kept my word and avoided any and all Justin Bieber mentions from that point on. Feel good about that. Second, I stand by Bieber being on the Thomas Eshelman path. If anything, I’m encouraged that a smart front office like Cleveland’s would place the same kind of premium on Bieber’s strengths as I do. I’d like to think it’s pretty clear I’m cool doing my own thing here in this tiny corner of the internet, but a little validation never hurts every now and then. Cleveland clearly targeted a certain type of pitcher this year in prioritizing command/control over gun-popping velocity. Aaron Civale, Bieber, and Andrew Lantrip all fit that mold. Maybe that’s two-fifths of a rotation one day. Maybe it’s one starter and one reliever. Maybe you really hit the jackpot and all three are quality big leaguers. That’s clearly the preferred option, but even getting hitting on one of the three would be a win. It goes back to the idea of doubling (or, in this case, tripling) down on a position or archetype of interest. If you keep trying, eventually you’ll get it right.

5.152 – OF Conner Capel

I didn’t remember that Baseball America had compared Conner Capel (149) to Tyler Naquin before the draft before I wrote the Trenton Brooks pick review below. I’ll save you the trouble of scrolling down. This is what I wrote about Brooks, Cleveland’s seventeenth round pick: “I’ll throw out a maybe irresponsible (depending on how “real” you think his rookie season was…) comparison to Tyler Naquin with a bit less power upside.” So does that make Brooks a reasonable comp for Conner Capel? Sure, why not! The lefty from Texas is an excellent athlete with a well-rounded skill set (above-average arm and speed) and an advanced hit tool. He’s a bit of a tweener as only a “maybe” center fielder with average at best power for a corner, but I like Cleveland betting on a guy who has shown he can make consistent hard contact against quality prep pitching.

Two more Capel facts before we call it a day. First, I just noticed I had him ranked one spot behind Nick Banks on my overall pre-draft list. That’s not particularly noteworthy but for the fact that D1 Baseball had compared Banks to Tyler Naquin at some point during the season. I didn’t really see that one personally — I went with Hunter Renfroe, for what it’s worth — but still funny to see Naquin’s name popping up everywhere. Secondly, I had Conner Capel listed as Connor Capel in my notes. I hate messing up names. Not only is it disrespectful to the player (if you write about a guy, you should have the right name), but it also makes searching for him years later a chore. Sorry, Conner.

6.182 – 3B Ulysses Cantu

A quick timeline of Ulysses Cantu (95) thoughts over the past year. First, from December 2015…

You want some really high praise for Cantu as a hitter? I’ve now heard the name Youkilis mentioned twice in conversations about him. That’s big time. Kevin Millar was another name that came up, as did a fun blast from the past Conor Jackson. I really like the Jackson comp and not just because I really liked him as a player. When was the last time you heard his name mentioned? He was a pretty interesting player for a while there. I liked that guy. Good talk.

And then from May 2016…

Ulysses Cantu is Joe Rizzo’s mirror image. Almost everything written above about the lefthanded Rizzo applies to righty swinging Cantu. I’m even less bullish on Cantu sticking anywhere but first base as a professional, so the pressure will be on for him to hit early and often upon signing his first contract. I see a little less hit tool, similar power, and an arguably better (trying to sort this out in limited PA for HS hitters is damn near impossible) approach. I think all that adds up to an overall offensive edge for Rizzo, but it’s really close.

After much industry chatter about Cantu playing just about anywhere but first base in the pros, he debuted with Cleveland at…first base. His strong arm is wasted a bit there, but it’s still probably the best fit for him in the long run. Playing first base should also have the added bonus of allowing more time for him to focus on his hitting, his once and future meal ticket to the big leagues. His pro debut saw him struggle at the plate for what I have to imagine was the first time ever. I think his natural gifts take over next spring and he emerges as one of the minors most interesting righthanded hitting first base prospects.

7.212 – C Michael Tinsley

Cleveland signed three college catchers. I love the idea of teams loading up on one spot in the draft. There’s a certain organizational piece of mind that comes with solidifying depth at one position over the course of one weekend’s worth of work. But trying to do that with three similarly aged catching prospects is better in theory than in practice. Where are these guys all going to play? Cleveland answered that by keeping Logan Ice behind the dish (duh) and moving both Michael Tinsley (138) and Gavin Collins to other defensive spots. Collins playing third is hardly a surprise — it’s where he played the majority of his draft year, after all — but Tinsley starting his pro career as a left fielder came out of, well, left field. Time will tell if this is part of a larger plan by Cleveland or merely a short-term fit to get everybody their rookie ball plate appearances. In any event, Tinsley certainly has the athleticism to thrive in a corner outfield spot. That same athleticism is what made him such an intriguing catching prospect to me. The lefthanded hitting Tinsley is a great athlete with average or better speed, arm strength, and mobility behind the plate. His approach as a hitter has long been a strength (63 BB/44 K in his three years at Kansas). He’s a keeper at any position, though it goes without saying that a return to catching would make Tinsley that much more appealing as a prospect.

8.242 – RHP Andrew Lantrip

On Andrew Lantrip (176) from March 2016…

Kay is a lot more famous among college fans, but Andrew Lantrip in many ways resembles a righthanded alternative. Kay’s changeup is ahead and he has the added bonus of mixing in a curve every now and then, but Lantrip can really command his fastball (like Kay’s, 87-92 MPH peaking at 94) and his delivery gives him that little extra pop of deception that makes everything he throws play up. Needless to say, I’m a fan. Lantrip will surely be dinged for being a slight college righthander without premium fastball velocity, but, again like Kay, the combination of a deep enough reservoir of offspeed stuff and a long track record of missing bats makes him an interesting high-floor back-end starting pitching option.

Andrew Lantrip walked 1.28 batters per nine in his 246.2 innings at Houston. That’s 35 walks in 246.2 innings. That’s good. A 1.28 BB/9 would have put him second in baseball this past year among qualified pitchers. The one pitcher with a better BB/9? Josh Tomlin. Hmm. I understand plus control not being something that seems all that exciting, but Lantrip’s never-ending story of strike after strike after strike is fun to watch. And it’s not just his expert control, either: Lantrip’s command of his fastball, a pitch he leans on heavily (and wisely), is exceptional. Watching him do this thing on the mound is a lot of fun. Will that fun translate in pro ball? Cleveland sure seems to think so. And I’d agree.

My “not a scout” observations on Lantrip showed me a quality breaking ball — not sure what it was exactly, but he threw it mostly 77-81 and when ahead in the count — and a usable change as at least a “show-me” pitch. That’s not anything to write home about, but, as we’ve covered, fastball command is so damn important and Lantrip has it in spades. Honestly, his profile would otherwise be pretty ordinary — fringe fifth starter type, maybe a middle reliever — were it not for his fastball command. It’s good enough I’ll bump everything up one step on the projection ladder: Lantrip could be a mid-rotation starter (closer to a fifth than a third, but still) with a pretty safe mid-relief floor. Barring another injury setback, I think he’s a sure-fire big leaguer. Josh Tomlin 2.0.

9.272 – OF Hosea Nelson

Huge raw power, good runner, great athleticism, and tons of swing-and-miss. Now you know what I know about Hosea Nelson. At Clarendon JC, Nelson hit .531/.606/1.020 with 27 BB/30 K and 17/21 SB in 237 PA. That 1.020 slugging isn’t a typo. It is, however, such a crazy number that my fingers don’t know how to type it. Muscle memory keeps getting in the way of putting the decimal where it should be. Nelson hit 20 homers in 196 AB, an impressive enough feat on its own made all the better when you realize his teammates combined for 14 total home runs in their aggregate 1630 AB. I have no idea how to project a guy like this, but I’m damn sure going to move heaven and earth to find a way to see him play in person in 2017.

10.302 – SS Samad Taylor

I had nothing on Samad Taylor before the draft, but everything I’ve heard and read since then has been fantastic. The only knock that I’ve heard was about his arm making him a more likely second baseman than a shortstop, something that played out as predicted in his debut season. Beyond that, his game is incredibly well-rounded for the mature beyond his years 17-year-old draftee with a chance for average (hit, power, arm) or better (speed, glove) tools across the board. Some might say TINSTAA2BP and maybe they are right, but, if you’re part of the 2B prospects are people too crowd (as I am), then Taylor should instantly move near the top of the list of most interesting second base prospects in the game.

11.332 – OF Andrew Calica

Andrew Calica’s .382/.474/.556 in 178 AB to start his pro career puts him on the short list of best 2016 debuts across baseball. Add in stealing 15 of 19 bags for good measure and Calica’s case as having the very best debut grows. The genius you’re reading right now didn’t rank him in the pre-draft top 500 despite going on and on and on about him back in March…

Of all the non-obvious (say, those unlikely to be first day selections) prospects in this class, Calica might be the guy closest to the Platonic ideal of what it means to be a FAVORITE on this site. Calica’s impressive hit tool, easy center field range, above-average to plus speed, and solid arm strength all give him the look of at least a potential quality backup at the pro level. I’d go a step further: Calica has consistently shown every tool save power throughout his career, and even his weakest area isn’t all that weak. He’s able to put himself into enough advantageous hitting counts to allow his sneaky pop (“burgeoning” is how it was recently described to me) to make him some degree of a threat to opposing pitchers who think they can sneak good fastballs by him. Center field tools, an advanced approach, and just enough pop all add up to a pretty intriguing talent.

I’m hopeful that not ranking Calica was an oversight — like my Dane Dunning omission that drives me nuts — but considering Calica was included on the “Draft Note Resource” pages I published meant to catch all the non-top 500 guys, I’d say it was just a major whiff. Is this an overreaction to a small (but undeniably awesome) sample to start his pro career? Maybe a little, I can admit that much. But Calica is legit. It’s a very strong backup outfielder profile with the chance for more if his recent power bump is real.

12.362 – RHP Zach Plesac

On Zach Plesac (356) back in February 2016…

Plesac has the obvious bloodlines working in his favor, but it’s his unusual athleticism and deep reservoir of offspeed pitches that make him a favorite of mine.

For whatever reason, Plesac never seemed to get the kind of credit he deserved for his outstanding junior season. He struck out more batters than ever (9.07 K/9), walked fewer guys (2.96 BB/9), and saw an uptick in stuff across the board. Assuming a return to full health after this past May’s Tommy John surgery, I think Plesac could move quickly as a potential mid-rotation starting pitcher. That’s typically what I see when I see an exceptionally athletic righthander with projection left who is already capable of throwing three pitches (86-92 FB, 94 peak; above-average low-80s CU; 75-77 CB, average upside) for strikes.

13.392 – C Gavin Collins

The vote of confidence in Gavin Collins (250) before the draft from me was predicated on the idea that his drafting team would move him back behind the plate. Here’s what I wrote about that in April 2016…

Gavin Collins has played third base the bulk of the season – very well, I should note – but still profiles best as a potential above-average defender as a professional catcher. My notes on him include one of the better lines I’ve gotten this year: “big arm, loves to show it off.” How can you not like a catcher like that?

Well, 41 of his 42 starts in the field in his debut with the Cleveland organization were at third base. I don’t know if that’s indicative of the long-term defensive plan for Collins or what, but it’s certainly a strong hint that they believe his best fit in the pros is at the hot corner. It’s also possible that he was playing third only in deference to second round pick Logan Ice, though that theory is cloudy at best when you factor in the two prospects having similar timetables going forward. I think he has the chance to be an average hit/average power type of bat (.250ish hitter with 15 homers?) with solid defense at either third or catcher. Depending on how offense continues to climb, that could be a potential regular. Falling short of that ceiling could still produce a useful bench asset. One name that comes to mind there is Adam Rosales without the middle infield versatility.

14.422 – OF Mitch Longo

The pre-season take on Mitch Longo back in February 2016…

Longo has some “scouty” questions to answer this spring, but I’m sold on the bat.

And how can you not be sold on Longo as a hitter? Seriously, all the guy does is hit. I don’t often do this, but, come on, look at the college production…

2014: .346/.416/.474 – 13 BB/13 K – 7/12 SB – 133 AB
2015: .357/.421/.498 – 22 BB/16 K – 10/13 SB – 241 AB
2016: .360/.438/.467 – 25 BB/19 K – 12/17 SB – 214 AB

That’s really good stuff right there. I got some answers on those “scouty” questions during his junior season — namely he’s a legit above-average runner who knows how to pick his spots and his arm can now be upgraded to “good enough,” which is, you know, good enough — but there were still some I talked to who think he’s a great college player who will be in over his head in pro ball. Too dependent on the admittedly solid hit tool with questionable power, speed, and defensive value, they say. Maybe, though I’d at least counter with pointing out that maybe those were fair reasons why he fell to the the fourteenth round but now that he’s actually in pro ball — and off to a fine start, I should add — anything you get from him is gravy. I don’t personally see why he can’t hit his way to the big leagues, fourteenth rounder or not.

16.482 – LHP Ben Krauth

Just about all I had on Ben Krauth heading into the draft were his numbers. That’s not entirely a bad thing for him as those numbers were really damn impressive: 10.08 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, 3.33 ERA in 92.0 IP. The notes portion for Krause was a bit less kind: “backwards pitching junk-thrower.” Pretty good debut for a backwards pitching junk-thrower, I’d say: 10.89 K/9, 1.66 BB/9, 1.66 ERA in 38.0 IP. I enjoy rooting for non-traditional players to succeed, and Krauth’s steady diet of offspeed stuff would certainly qualify him for that mantle.

17.512 – OF Trenton Brooks

On Trenton Brooks (195) from March 2016…

Trenton Brooks has gotten off to a relatively slow start at the plate so far, but I remain firmly on his bandwagon heading into June. His athleticism, defensive upside (CF range and a strong arm befitting a two-way player), and flashes of offensive promise make him a really intriguing future pro, especially if you believe (as I do) that focusing solely on one side of the ball will help take his game to the next level professionally. Between that belief and the possibility he could always be shifted back to the mound down the line if need be – two points that are almost but not quite contradictory – Brooks has a chance to be a better pro than what he’s shown at Nevada.

I’m still very much a believer in Trenton Brooks, future big league player. The ceiling may now be more fourth outfielder/spot starter than potential regular, but that’s still some serious value down in the seventeenth round. I’ll throw out a maybe irresponsible (depending on how “real” you think his rookie season was…) comparison to Tyler Naquin with a bit less power upside.

18.542 – LHP Raymond Burgos

Really nice work by Cleveland here in getting Raymond Burgos signed and on board in the eighteenth round. I write that knowing very little about Burgos as a pitcher. What I do know, I like: his pre-draft notes here had him up to 89 MPH with his fastball and in the mid-70s with his breaking stuff. He’s also listed at 6-5, 175 pounds, lefthanded, athletic, and, by all accounts, a hard worker. Toss in the fact that he’s really young for his class — he won’t turn 18 until the end of November — and all the ingredients here are for a major draft sleeper. It would be completely irresponsible (again) to compare him to a lefty version of Triston McKenzie in any way other than their relative youth and frames to dream on, so I won’t.

19.572 – RHP Dakody Clemmer

I really like this one. Dakody Clemmer is a potential surprise quick-moving reliever. Armed with a power sinker/slider mix, the strong righthander has a chance to shoot through the Cleveland system in a hurry if allowed to focus on keeping the ball down with his low-90s heat and above-average slider. The only thing that could slow him down is needing some time to find a way to more consistently harness his stuff; plus movement can be a blessing and a curse for young pitchers sometimes.

23.692 – RHP Mike Letkewicz

Mike Letkewicz had himself an interesting senior season at Augustana. His final year stats (7.76 K/9 and 3.59 BB/9) dropped his career strikeout mark to 9.46 (boo) but came with the added benefit of dropping his career walks to 4.62 (progress!). He’s a middling middle relief prospect unafraid to throw back-to-back changeups when needed. That’s all I’ve got.

24.722 – LHP Skylar Arias

Searched “Skylar Arias” on my site not expecting to find anything (name wasn’t ringing a bell and it’s the kind of name that ought to, right?), but, lo and behold, some notes on him from his HS days…

LHP Skylar Arias (Oakleaf HS, Florida): 86-88 FB; CB; CU; 6-3, 165 pounds

His year at Tallahassee CC was a successful one with the young lefty sitting down 10.82 batters per nine. There’s some funk to his delivery that is either appealing or not (I’m into it) and the projection left in his 6-3, 190 pound frame (note the positive weight gain since his time at Oakleaf) suggest even more velocity to come. The only negative on his ledger for now is the 56-game suspension handed to him after testing positive to Nandrolone in August. That’s a bummer.

25.752 – 3B Jonathan Laureano

Jonathan Laureano had about as bad a debut as you can have after putting up a -14 wRC+ in his first 86 PA. Fortunately, that small sample nightmare came on the heels of an excellent freshman season at Connors State: .347/.472/.595 with 39 BB/33 K in 218 PA. I don’t have anything on him beyond that other than to say that somebody out there has his last name wrong. He’s listed as Laureno as Baseball Reference, but Laureano at both MiLB.com and his Connors State player page. I tend to think that the latter spelling is likely correct, but admitting that means I’m saying B-R is wrong and that makes me sad. Love you, Baseball Reference.

26.782 – LHP Tanner Tully

By law, Cleveland is required to draft at least one Ohio State player every year. Ignore the fact that they haven’t drafted anybody from the Buckeyes since 2004; can’t let that get in the way of a good narrative. Tanner Tully is a solid pick on merit, Ohio State connection aside. I like Tully even though I can’t quite figure him out. His stuff is solid — 88-92 FB, 93 peak; nice low-80s SL — and both his command and control are exceptional, but he’s never been able to miss bats even as he puts up sterling run prevention numbers. He kept up his confusing ways as a pro: 5.09 K/9 and a 1.17 ERA in 46.0 IP. Years of watching the numbers have me convinced he can’t keep this up forever, but strike-throwing lefties with decent stuff and good athleticism are tough guys to figure.

28.842 – SS Jamal Rutledge

I take it back. Jonathan Laureno is off the hook. Turns out you can have an ever worse debut as Jamal Rutledge managed a -18 wRC+ in the 48 PA to begin his pro career. This came after hitting .267/.295/.336 with 5 BB/27 K in 126 PA at Contra Costa as a freshman. The small sample size pro debut isn’t that big a deal — more of a “fun fact” than anything, and one I hope becomes but a footnote in his long, successful pro career — but that junior college line has me scratching my head a bit. If Rutledge makes it, I think we could chalk this up as one of the bigger mid-round scouting over stats wins of all-time.

30.902 – RHP Ryder Ryan

As an age-eligible two-way prospect with virtually no competitive innings played the last two seasons, Ryder Ryan ranked as one of the draft’s bigger mysteries heading into June. Older scouting reports were favorable — most notably those citing a big-time arm capable of living 90-94 MPH and touching 96 — and his obvious athleticism as a legit power-hitting prospect make this a chance well worth taking by Cleveland. Ryder is as strong a candidate of any as becoming one of this year’s “where did HE come from” thirtieth round picks.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Austin Shenton (Washington), Spencer Steer (Oregon), Mike Amditis (Miami), Blake Sabol (USC), Zack Smith (Charlotte), Pedro Alfonseca (Black Hawk CC), Armani Smith (UC Santa Barbara), Dan Sinatro (Washington State), Ben Baird (Washington), Andrew Baker (Florida), Nelson Alvarez (Miami-Dade CC), Mason Studstill (Miami), Kramer Robertson (LSU), Jacob DeVries (Air Force), Chris Farish (Wake Forest), Wil Crowe (South Carolina)

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1 Comment

  1. Doss says:

    Nice review!

    The Indians are all about K/BB ratio and age on draft weekend. All their high picks except Capel are “very young” for their class. They value age and up the middle players. Oh, and LHandedness too, obviously. 12 of 19 signed out of the top 20 rounds were either switch hitters (3) or LHP/B (9).

    I agree that switching the first two picks looks much better and there’s some regret that Rutherford/Jones was possible with some sacrifices in the mid rounds, but that’s nit-picking. It’s a very good class with a good mix of high ceiling risk and high floor polish and some cheap, intriguing scouting finds (Taylor, Burgos, the JuCo players). Speaking of Burgos, it was known that he required TJ, which was preformed shortly after he signed. The Indians like to gamble and take injury discounts on those (Aiken, Garza last year). This draft it was Plesac and Burgos, who won’t debut as a pro until 2018, but he’s still a teenager then. Same with “lesser” injuries to hitters. Mathias, Krieger, U.Cantu.

    Personally, I loved the college trios of Civale, Bieber, Lantrip and Tinsley, Calica, Longo. Btw, I’ve heard they still intend to play both Tinsley and Collins at C next season (they drafted them as catchers, after all), but probably not full time, if I had to guess, because versatility is another thing they value a lot.

    Your comment regarding the draft system made me curious, as I actually really like the setup. It’s far from perfect, but it beats the sweepstakes it was before that and it’s a fun way to work value.

    Any way I can send you an email? Feel free to send me one, if you feel like talking draft in general and Indians draftees in particular. Thanks again for your outstanding work.

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