The Mahoning Valley Scrappers have been an incredibly fun team to follow this season based on all of the young talent they have on the roster. Even with Ethan Hankins, George Valera, and Ray Delgado promoted to Lake County, fans and scouts alike could come marvel at players like Brayan Rocchio, Carlos Vargas, and Bryan Lavastida. Niles, Ohio—where the Scrappers play their home games—is quite a drive from my house, and after trekking down there twice this season, I doubted I’d be back. That was before 2019 first round pick Daniel Espino was promoted from rookie ball in mid-August. Below are my scouting notes from Espino’s final start of the season, including thoughts on a handful of other young Scrappers who might figure into the future plans of the Cleveland Indians.

Daniel Espino, RHP

Game Line

3.0IP | 4H | 3ER | 6K | 3BB | 1HR

41/67 Ks = 61% | 9/16 1stPitch Ks = 56%

Pitch Usage

Four-Seam: 61.2% | S&M = 4 | Hard Contact = 2

Slider: 22.4% | S&M = 3 | Hard Contact = 2

Curveball: 10.4% | S&M = 1 | Hard Contact = 0

Changeup: 6.0% | S&M = 2 | Hard Contact = 0

I was surprised when Daniel Espino was available to the Indians with the 24thpick in this year’s draft, considering he was thought to be a top 10 pick going into the season. Many believed his combination of elite velocity and a deep arsenal would make him a future ace, although I had some concerns about him personally. Despite being young for his grade, his frame is basically maxed out, and he has a lengthier arm swing that could make strike throwing difficult. Not to mention, the track record of prep right handers touching 100 isn’t exactly great, to the point where some teams refuse to take that “archetype” of player in the first round.

The Indians obviously didn’t have those same concerns, and did a great job of nabbing a high upside arm while also under-slotting him to save money for later picks. The more I watch Espino, the less concerned I am about the arm swing and frame. He might be maxed out physically, but he’s a really strong kid with elite lower half mechanics that allow him to get into throwing positions that other pitchers can’t. In addition, the Tribe have already worked with him on landing heel to heel with his lead foot, as opposed to slightly cross-fire like he was in high school. Both of these factors should enable him to develop consistent command on the mound.

After finally getting to see Espino in person yesterday, I walked away impressed with his advanced approach, command, and sequencing of his entire arsenal. His relies primarily on his nasty fastball/slider combo, which both project as plus pitches. His fastball was 92-96, and was commanded around the zone with elite life. Almost all of his misses were competitive pitches right around the plate, which is what you like to see from young starters. His velo was down a few ticks, which is understandable considering this is the longest season of baseball he’s played in his life thus far. His slider tunnels well with his fastball, and was nearly impossible to hit besides one he hung over the plate that was crushed for a three run homerun (the only runs he allowed in the game). The pitch has two-planed action and generally lives below the zone. He’s confident enough in the offering that he will sometimes dump the pitch in while down in the count, which isn’t common from pitchers at this level.

The second time through the order, he started mixing in curveballs and changeups to keep hitters off balance. His curveball was 75-77 that he can manipulate to be more vertical or with traditional 11/5 movement depending where he’s locating the pitch. His final batter of the day was a lefty who swung and missed on a 3-2 back-footed curveball; I’ve seen a lot of players this year, and have yet to see that type of sequencing from a pitcher. He also threw four hard changeups with plus arm speed that were 86-87; the pitch possesses late armside fade, with Espino showing similar confidence to utilize the pitch late in the count.

If you were to box score scan, you might think Espino had a tough day on the mound. For an 18 year-old recent draftee to perform the way he did last night, the player has to be a special talent. I feel Espino is that type of player, and think presently he is the best pitching prospect in the Indians’ system. Based on his mature frame and arsenal, I bet the Indians will push him through the system aggressively while being conservative with his innings/pitch counts. Espino may never throw 200 innings at his peak, but the 160-170 innings he will throw annually will be elite. Barring health issues, he’s an ace in the making.

Mahoning Valley Scrappers Prospects

Brayan Rocchio, SS

0-4 | 0R | 0RBI | 0BB | 1K

Rocchio is very skinny/small with sloped shoulders, and I don’t see him ever truly “filling out.” That might cause his bat to be light, but his switch-hitting high contact approach and agility in the field will make him a formidable middle infielder. He has an incredible feel for shortstop, displaying quickness in all directions, and an innate ability to make the acrobatic plays. I am fully convinced he is the best shortstop in the system defensively, and think his 60 defense/55 arm and natural quick twitch make him a potential Gold Glove candidate. He’s a switch-hitter, although in three looks this season I haven’t been able to see him bat right handed. He sets up with a wide base and holds his hands low with the bat resting on his back shoulder. He initiates his swing with a simple toe turn, and gets his foot down early. He possesses plus bat speed/feel for the barrel, and his level swing should allow him to spray the ball all around the field. He’s so adept at putting barrel to ball that he feels he can hit everything, and expands the zone trying to make contact. After a slow start in the plate discipline department, his walk rate has improved to more reasonable levels as the season has gone on.

After analyzing his right handed swing, it’s functionally similar to his left handed swing overall besides two differences: he starts his hands higher in his pre-pitch setup, and he employs a light leg kick to initiate his swing. I don’t think he’s as far along righty as he is lefty—despite the former being his natural handedness—as he doesn’t hit behind the baseball as well, causing some poor attack angles/punchy swings.

He had a really tough day at the plate on Thursday, and was swinging and missing on fastballs in addition to chasing bad pitches out of the zone. You could see the frustration on his face, although it’s easy to forget that Rocchio is one of the youngest players on the team, and probably is still working on adjusting to pro ball and life in the United States. For comparison, Daniel Espino is actually eight days older than Rocchio, and he was just drafted in June.

Based on his athleticism, barrel control, and defensive prowess, I see the ability to develop into a top of the order catalyst with Gold Glove defense and on-base skills. Rocchio has hit a barrage of home runs recently (three of his four total have come in August), and on one particular swing from the left side he looked a lot like Francisco Lindor. I personally don’t think Rocchio will hit for the same type of power as the Tribe superstar, but a little bit of doubt crept into my head after that clip. I think his standout tools are loud enough to develop into an above average regular even without power, with a higher floor than most based on his defense.

Korey Holland, CF

0-3 | 0R | 0RBI | 0BB | 0K | 1HBP

Holland is a lean/twitchy athlete with plus speed and defensive prowess in center field, a potential catalyst at the top of the batting order down the road. He was committed to University of Texas, but was lured away by the Tribe with a half million dollar bonus in the 14th round back in 2018.

He showed great instincts reading the ball off the bat, both coming in and going back on the baseball. He looks a bit less comfortable in left field than he does in right and center, but I feel that his instincts/speed will provide him with the ability to play plus defense at all three positions. He’s an opportunistic base stealer, and his plus speed should allow him to wreak havoc on opposing catchers.

At the plate, Holland has a line drive approach and hunts fastballs in the zone. He’s stands with a wide base and a slight bend in his knees, with his elbow cocked and his bat near his back ear. He has a quick load, and gets his foot down early in his swing, which is conducive to a contact oriented approach. He possesses impressive bat speed, but his swings look effortful at times because of a “punchy” bat path through the zone. His swing is currently very rotational and flat, which causes his bat to be in and out of the zone quickly. He’s already fairly passive at the plate—sometimes taking hittable fastballs early in the count—but his mechanical issues make it really tough for him to square up the baseball. He’s got the raw ability/bat speed to hit a fastball, but doesn’t have efficient swing kinematics to consistently do damage. He was much more aggressive at the plate today, swinging quite a bit regardless of the count; I’m not sure if that was a deliberate approach change, or if he was just trying to jump on subpar pitching.

He’s a toolsy athlete, so it’s not a surprise that he is more of a developmental project. After a hot month of August (.326/.446/.457), Holland might finally be finding himself at the plate, which bodes well for his confidence going into the offseason.

Before the Indians traded Ruben Cardenas, I was really optimistic about him turning into a contributor for the big league club; now, my new “sleeper” is Korey Holland. I see a top of the order bat with on-base skills who will play plus defense at a premium position and swipe 20 bags a year. He’s still sushi raw at the plate and only in Short-Season ball, so there’s definite risk, although I think his floor is higher because of his speed/defense combo. I’m excited to watch Holland work his way through the system in the coming years.

Aaron Bracho, 2B

0-4 | 0R | 0RBI | 0BB | 2K

Bracho was signed in the same international free agent class that netted top prospects Brayan Rocchio and George Valera, but did not debut stateside until 2019. After tearing up rookie ball (.296/.416/.593 with 6 homeruns in 108 plate appearances), he was promoted to Mahoning Valley on August 27th to give him a taste of Short-Season competition headed into 2020.

The first thing that jumped out to me was how much thicker he was than the last time I had seen video of him; he’s listed at 175, but is certainly heavier than that. This is not uncommon to see among young players jumping from the Dominican Summer League to the United States, and I don’t think the weight detracts from his overall skillset. He’s definitely a second basemen long-term, and possesses limited quickness/mobility (especially to his right) with an average arm. This is not unlike current Tribe keystone incumbent, Jason Kipnis, who has been an average defender for most of his career.

At the plate, Bracho has an easy set-up with plus bat speed. His strong hands/wrists lend themselves to above average barrel control, and he showed an impressive feel for the strike zone yesterday. His first two at-bats he worked the pitcher into 3-2 counts and saw 15 total pitches; despite striking out and grounding out, his ability to extend the opposing pitcher and not expand the zone are unique for a young player. I didn’t get a chance to see him hit right handed, but from the video I watched it appears functionally similar as his left handed swing with maybe a bit less looseness.

Based on his frame, bat control, and plane to his swing, I think there’s sneaky power within him that’s still yet to be unlocked, and I’m willing to slap a 50 grade on the tool even though that might be a bit aggressive. Bracho doesn’t have one particular tool that is plus, but seems to do everything pretty well across the board. He’s the youngest player on the Scrappers currently, having just turned 18 in April. Expect him to spend most of 2020 in Short-Season ball, with the opportunity to be promoted with a dominant performance.

Bryan Lavastida, C/DH

1-4 | 0R | 0RBI | 0BB | 0K

Lavastida has an interesting background and will be exciting to watch as he develops. Originally a shortstop/third basemen coming out of high school, he was extremely young for his graduating year of 2016 (didn’t turn 18 until November). He was selected in the 15th round by the Astros, but opted to go to Hillsborough Community College with a future commitment to Alabama after two years. The Indians couldn’t pass on his upside in the 2018 draft, and grabbed him in the 15th round.

He’s got a pretty filled out frame with thick legs, which should serve him well behind the dish. He switched to catching full time in pro ball, and so far has turned in solid caught stealing rates (around 34%) despite struggling with passed balls (8 in 35 games). He has been the DH both times I’ve seen him play this year, so my defensive opinions will have to wait.

I really like his swing at the plate. He stands with his feet about shoulder width apart with a slight bend in his knee, and rests his bat quietly on his shoulder pre-pitch. He seems to really have a good feel for the kinematics in his swing, initiating his lower half with a smooth leg kick and pairing it with a quick hand/bat load. His compact swing has natural loft, and he appears to have an understanding of how to get on plane with pitches. The bat speed is average and he doesn’t have especially loose wrists, but I think he’s got average pull side power in the tank.

His takes are aggressive at the plate, and he is one of the few on the team that looks ready to do damage every time he comes up to the plate. He has shown an ability to pick up spin, and seems to barrel up the baseball consistently no matter what the count is. Ironically, both times I have seen him hit this season were against the same pitcher, State College’s Enmanuel Solano, who for the record does not have great stuff.

Lavastida has an interesting profile as a catcher who could potentially have fringy average to average hit/power tools if he continues to develop his approach at the plate and get stronger.

Michael Cooper, 1B

1/3 | 0R | 0RBI | 0BB | 1K

The first time I saw Michael Cooper, I was intrigued by his ultra-projectable frame; he checks in at a skinny six foot five 185 pounds, with over seventy percent of his body seemingly being his legs. He doesn’t look super athletic right now, but he could just be growing into his body/figuring out how everything works together. He’s still developing his footwork/feel at first base, and looks a little awkward bending down to scoop balls. Depending on his level of athleticism, a corner outfield spot could be in his future.

He has long levers, and let’s his hands go/opens his front shoulder earlier in his swing than you would want, which causes more of a “merry-go-round” swing path as opposed to a “ferris wheel.” After looking at his walk and strikeout percentages the last few years, he seems like a guy who makes quite a bit of contact, but has trouble making “productive” contact. I think he’s young enough that swing adjustments are still in play. There’s sneaky strength within him, and I believe if he can correct some of his swing issues and add muscle, he could start pulling the ball in the air for average power.

He’s a left swing/right throw guy, and while some may say that’s an advantage because his lead hand is his throwing arm, I disagree. Sometimes, guys with this profile struggle to understand and develop a feel for proper lower half/upper half sequencing because of the varying handedness. The Indians Strength/Conditioning and Player Development teams may need to determine which side is more natural to him, and work with him to develop the weaker side. Cooper needs a lot more seasoning, and should repeat Short-Season ball again in 2020.

Yanier Diaz, C

0/4 | 0R | 0RBI | 0BB | 0K

I had been seeing a lot of Diaz recently, mostly because every time I checked the box scores he was catching while Lavastida was the DH. According to Indians Baseball Insider’s own Corey Crisan, the two of them alternate days behind the dish.

He was signed from the Dominican Republic back in 2017, and had put together a few impressive campaigns in rookie ball before getting the call to Mahoning Valley on July 20th. His listed height and weight are six foot, 195 pounds, although it seems like he’s at least 10 pounds thicker than that. He has the traditional squatty catchers frame, and is understandably raw with the intricacies of the position. He shows flashes of a feel to frame pitches, but sometimes gets lazy and gives up on balls. He did allow a passed ball (although it was officially ruled a wild pitch on Espino) where he simply did not smother the pitch quickly enough, allowing it to go right between his legs. His arm looks like a 55, and was on display when he back-picked a Spikes’ player at second base with a perfect throw on the money. The only pop time I got from him yesterday was a 2.09 on a stolen base, which obviously is a pretty poor mark (although the pitch on that play was a curveball down in the zone).

At the plate, he has an effortful swing where he strides open with aggressive hacks. He still managed to make loud contact and drive a few balls deep yesterday, so there’s exciting raw power in the bat; I just don’t see how he will be able put the barrel to the ball considering how his stride affects his plate coverage.

Joab Gonzalez, 3B

2/3 | 0R | 1RBI | 0BB | 0K

Gonzalez was the Indians’ 25thround pick in the 2019 draft out of New Mexico Junior College. His profile as an up-the-middle, young for his grade prospect fits exactly what the team tends to look for. In his draft spring, he hit .302/.429/.593 with 10 homeruns and a 39/43 strikeout to walk ratio. I’m not sure there’s quite that much power in his bat, but I like his smooth actions at the plate and compact swing. He had two nice inside out swings on the day, including an RBI single on a slider breaking off the plate. He seems to have a patient approach, and didn’t expand his zone to swing at bad pitches. He was playing out of position at third base based on the high profile up-the-middle tandem of Rocchio/Bracho; from the little action I saw, he possesses an average arm with questionable range/lateral quickness. I’d like to see him play short and second before passing full judgement, though, as playing out of position can be uncomfortable and potentially mess with a player’s rhythm in the field. I was super intrigued by Gonzalez when I studied the 2019 draft class, and I still am; his ceiling feels like that of a slap hitting utility infielder, which is pretty valuable as a late day three selection. I’d expect him to remain at Mahoning Valley to start 2020, where he should be able to get game action in the middle infield.

Jonathan Rodriguez, RF

0/3 | 1R | 0RBI | 0BB | 1K

Rodriguez is a big strong kid who was drafted by the Tribe in the third round of the 2017 draft from Carlos Beltran Academy in Puerto Rico. He possesses some interesting tools, but presently is super raw on the baseball diamond. I didn’t get a chance to see him make any plays in right field, but based on the way he runs and his overall frame, I don’t see a ton of quick twitch athleticism/mobility. I was watching him play catch in between innings, and despite a lengthier arm action, he appears to have a borderline plus arm based on pure arm strength.

At the plate, he has two different stances, although neither is particularly refined. With less than two strikes, he stands open with a wide base and a bend in both of his knees, employing a big leg kick to initiate his swing; when he is down in the count, he keeps all the same actions described above, except he stands square instead of open. Truthfully, I don’t like when players do this, as it seems counter intuitive. If you think your two strike swing helps you make better contact, why not just use that swing all the time? He may think it helps him gain better coverage on the outer half of the plate, but honestly I think the fact that he strides slightly open negates any potential gains in this area. He has a lengthier bat path and still needs work recognizing spin, but there’s raw power in the tank that’s already starting to manifest itself this season (5 homeruns in 213 at-bats as a 19 year-old).

He’s another developmental project, but the Tribe could reap the benefits of a power hitting corner outfielder if everything pans out.

Liam Jenkins, RHP

4.0IP | 6H |2ER | 4K | 2BB

Jenkins is a massive six foot eight right hander who was drafted in 2018 from the University of Louisville. He throws from an over-the-top slot, and generates nice downward plane on his pitches. There’s really nothing special about his arsenal; his fastball sits 92-94 with some light armside run, and he mixes in an 11/5 curveball that’s 77-80 without a ton of depth. He does a pretty good job burying it, and it was a big swing and miss pitch for him tonight. His size is intriguing, but his repertoire is not. I’d like to see him adjust the grip of his curveball to construct a more 12/6 moving pitch, which may play better with the north-south profile dictated by his arm slot.

By Michael Cuva

(Photo: Orlando Ramirez, USA TODAY Sports)

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