Photo: Matthew Carper/Courtesy Columbus Clippers This series is based on a voting exercise from Justin Lada, Joe Coblitz and Willie Hood on the top 10 players at each position in […]
Photo: Matthew Carper/Courtesy Columbus Clippers
This series is based on a voting exercise from Justin Lada, Joe Coblitz and Willie Hood on the top 10 players at each position in the Cleveland Indians’ farm system. Each position rank is worth a point in voting (#1 rank is 10 points, #2 is 9, #3 is 8, etc.).
The positions covered in this series will breakdown this way: Catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner outfield, centerfield, right handed starting pitchers, left handed starting pitchers, and relievers.
Top 10 shortstops in Cleveland’s system
10. Yordys Valdes (3 points)
Highest level reached (most games played): AZL Indians Red
The Indians knew they were getting a glove first player when they grabbed Valdes in the second round in 2019 and he has so far proven them correct. While he showed a little bit of power from time to time, Valdes was generally an inconsistent hitter with good speed. In addition, he played extremely poor defense from time to time including one nine game span that included five errors. It’s still way too early to judge Valdes, but he certainly didn’t stand out during his rookie season.
9. Marcos Gonzalez (5 points)
Highest level reached (most games played): AZL (35 games – 2018)
Gonzalez is a rangy defender who has played mostly shortstop thus far but might be better served at third base long term. He could play anywhere on the infield long term and shows good bat speed and a good approach at the plate. It’s a crowded position in this organization and the potential for a little better bat than Valdez keeps him out of the last spot, but being in the top-10 is still a competitive spot in this group.
8. Junior Sanquintin (9 points)
Highest level reached: DSL Indians
I first saw Sanquintin shortly after he turned 17 in 2019 extended spring training where he impressed with his big swing and strong arm. He took those skills to the Dominican Summer League later that year and hit 12 doubles with three home runs and far too many strike outs. While he may have to cut down on his swing and his base stealing attempts (9 times caught in 13 attempts), he has the build and base skills of a superstar. Of all the players on this list, Sanquintin may have the biggest difference between floor and ceiling as he could be a big league starter or not make it past AZL.
7. Yu Chang (11 points)
Highest level reached: Triple-A (127 – 2018)
In 2019, Chang (pictured at top) split his time in the field between shortstop, third base, and second base. The majority of his games were still at shortstop. Chang has the arm to play shortstop and third base, but his range is probably best at third base long term. He has average raw power but has a hard time getting to it in game. Still with fringe-average pop and the ability to play at least two positions, he has an interesting MLB future. He could handle short in the short term were the Indians to trade Francisco Lindor, but the hope would be the power would show in games for him to get the most value. Otherwise he’s probably best suited to be a utility infielder who has an average glove and bat, which is valuable, but shows why he’s seven on this list despite already making his MLB debut.
6. Angel Martinez (16 points)
Highest level reached: DSL Indians
Martinez spent 2019 spread fairly evenly at third, second and short, but played mostly short in extended spring that year and is good enough defensively to stick. While numbers in the DSL are nearly irrelevant as far as projection is concerned, he was one of the best hitters there for the Indians last year, batting .306/.402/.428 with seven triples, 11 steals and 29 walks to 29 strike outs in 56 games.
Similarly to Sanquintin and Valdes already in the top ten and a few to come, Martinez is extremely young and talented and was potentially set back significantly by the lost minor league season. Instead of playing in Lake County in 2021, he’ll probably have to start in Arizona where he’ll lost the advantage he had of extreme youth in his first year. Given his talent, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if he advanced quickly from that point on.
5. Carson Tucker (18 points)
Highest level reached: None, Drafted 2020
Drafted in the first round (23rd overall) in the 2020 MLB Draft, Carson Tucker rose up draft boards this spring as he flashed increased strength, speed, and overall maturity in every area of his game. The Arizona native added strength to his frame with it and improved to drive the ball. The former Texas Longhorns commit received a $2 million signing bonus. The younger brother of Pittsburgh Pirates Cole Tucker, Carson Tucker, is an exciting blend of upside and polish.
At the plate, Tucker displays an above-average bat with a quality approach and average improving power. On the field and the bases, the young shortstop features plus speed. Defensively, he is a capable defender with a strong above-average arm and a reliable glove.
4. Gabriel Rodriguez (21 points)
Highest level reached: AZL Indians Red
Rodriguez is an incredible athlete who brings flashy, yet consistent, glove work a strong arm and good speed to create a total package for the Indians at short stop or third base. Because he has both great range and a good arm, he really is interchangeable between the two positions and his final spot may be determined more by the make-up of the franchise around him than his own ability.
Offensively, he isn’t as advanced as he is defensively, but he still has a lot of power. Pitch selection may end up being an issue as he came out of the Dominican Summer League very aggressive in 2019, but he’s had plenty of time to hone his craft since and should be on the short list for starting short stop in Lake County in 2021. While the defense alone gives him a high floor, Rodriguez’s high ceiling offensively thanks to his size and bat speed put him near the top of our list.
3. Gabriel Arias (23 points)
Tiebreaker was who had the higher ranking on two of the three lists
Highest level reached: A+ Lake Elsinore
Acquired as part of the Mike Clevinger trade Gabriel Arias is another high upside shortstop in a system flush with middle infield talent. Arias has worked hard on his breaking ball recognition utilizing advanced technology in his pursuit of becoming a better hitter. At the plate displays an improving bat with emerging above-average power potential.
Defensively, the talented shortstop boasts one of the best arms in the system. Arias has the look of a potential Gold Glove-caliber defender with the ability to make every day plays and difficult plays with the leather. He displays the athleticism to stay at shortstop long term and the arm to handle shortstop or third base with ease.
2. Brayan Rocchio (27 points)
Highest level reached: SS Mahoning Valley
Rocchio had an amazing rookie season as a 17 year old between the DSL and AZL, showing incredible range, a strong arm and good contact ability. He took a major step back, however, upon promotion to short season where he committed an eye popping 20 errors while his OPS dropped from .832 to .683. On a positive note, he mainted his speed numbers with 14 steals and three triples while increasing his power slightly with 12 doubles and five home runs.
Rocchio is one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen at any position for any team and I’m certain that his poor performance in Mahoning Valley will ultimately be viewed as an aberration, not and indication of future performance. With #1 and Arias likely to be the starting short stops in AA and AAA for the Indians in 2021, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rocchio jump straight to high A Lynchburg.
1. Tyler Freeman (30 points)
Highest level reached: High-A (62 games)
Freeman is an aggressive swinger but he puts the bat on the ball at elite levels. He’s added some strength to his frame in 2020 and is a relentless worker on his all around game. He’s an efficient enough defender at shortstop with good speed and instincts, and while his arm isn’t as strong as at shortstop as others on this list, he’ll make almost all the throws a shortstop needs to at a decent rate. He has the kind of attitude and work ethic that will wind up seeing him outperform all expectations of his game. He’ll hit more than hit for power, but don’t count out 15 or so homers with the added strength as he does get into good hitting positions. The added strength and not having to work on his own for 2020 like Rocchio give him the edge at #1 in the organization at this position now.