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Midseason Prospect Update: Indians

The Midseason Top 10 Prospect lists are compiled from conversations with front office officials and scouts from all 30 teams. Players who have exhausted prospect eligibility or were in the Major Leagues as of June 22 are not eligible. Draftees from the 2016 draft and July 2, 2016 signees are also not eligible. SEE ALSO: Midseason Top 100
A 14-game winning streak that began two days before the Cavaliers won the NBA title propelled the Indians into first place in the American League Central. The streak helped Cleveland to a 50-32 start, its best record at the halfway point of the season since 1999.
C Yan Gomes
1B Bobby Bradley
2B Jason Kipnis
3B Jose Ramirez
SS Francisco Lindor
LF Michael Brantley
CF Bradley Zimmer
RF Clint Frazier
DH Carlos Santana
No. 1 Starter Corey Kluber
No. 2 Starter Carlos Carrasco
No. 3 Starter Trevor Bauer
No. 4 Starter Danny Salazar
No. 5 Starter Brady Aiken
Closer Cody Allen
The Indians' young pitching staff has led the way. Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin (all 31 or younger) have formed a formidable rotation and closer Cody Allen, 27, leads a strong bullpen. The offense hasn’t been as dynamic, though it has found a way to manufacture runs with aggressive baserunning and the long ball. Shortstop Francisco Lindor has blossomed into one of the game’s best players in his second season, hitting 10 home runs in the first three months to go with his highlight reel defense. The first-half of the season saw the big league debuts of Mike Clevinger, Ryan Merritt, Shawn Morimando and Tyler Naquin. Only Naquin, a 2012 first-round pick, stuck long enough to graduate from prospect status, as he grabbed one of the spots in the Indians outfield. He is the first of a group of young outfielders making their way to Cleveland, as fellow first-round picks Clint Frazier (2013) and Bradley Zimmer (2014) are just a couple steps back in Double-A Akron. But Frazier and Zimmer likely won’t provide an immediate answer for the offense, and the Indians have the opportunity to be active buyers at the trade deadline. Manager Terry Francona can never have too many relievers, and the outfield picture remains uncertain with Michael Brantley still working his way back from injury. The Tribe has also gotten very little offensive value out of its catchers, though Yan Gomes is respected for his work behind the plate. Cleveland is unlikely to make a big splash at the deadline, but with the Cavs ending the city’s championship drought (that dated to 1964), the Indians will look to build on their momentum and join their downtown neighbors as league champions.
MIDSEASON TOP 10 1. Clint Frazier, of Thanks to a strong showing in his debut with Double-A Akron, Frazier has leapfrogged Zimmer in the rankings. Frazier’s numbers have stayed remarkably consistent this season even as he has moved a rung up the ladder, including his strikeout rate, which has plateaued around 21 percent the last two years. An intelligent player who studies the game, Frazier has seen action in all three outfield spots, but with Zimmer also in Akron, he has played both corners more often than he has appeared in center. Right field remains his most likely position for Frazier in the long run, and he could be playing it in Progressive Field next year.
A hairline fracture in his foot limited Zimmer after he advanced to Akron at the end of his breakout 2015 season. He is fully healthy now but is still working to adjust to more experienced competition. He has done a good job of tapping into his power, but that has come with more swing-and-miss and his strikeout rate has ticked up to near 30 percent.

3. Brady Aiken, lhp
After missing all of last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, Aiken spent the first half of this year in extended spring training. He made his professional debut in June in the Rookie-level Arizona League, and is making good progress as the two-time first-round pick acclimates to the minor leagues.

After leading the Midwest League in home runs in 2015, Bradley has largely picked up in the high Class A Carolina League where he left off. He is again leading his league in home runs and striking out in about 31 percent of his plate appearances. But the 20-year-old is continuing to work to refine his approach at the plate and remains one of the youngest players in his league.

Sheffield has continued to pitch well after moving up the ladder to high Class A Lynchburg this season. He is continuing to work on refining his command, and while his walk rate has increased and his strikeout rate has dipped, he’s also allowing fewer hits.

The Indians pushed Mejia aggressively at the outset of his career, and he scuffled at the plate in 2015 with Class A Lake County. He returned to the Captains to start the season and exploded at the plate. He was on a 25-game hitting streak when he was promoted to Lynchburg at the end of June. His improved performance had also carried over to the defensive side of the field, where he was blocking balls well behind the plate and throwing out 43 percent of would-be base stealers.

Clevinger made his major league debut in 2016, completing his career turnaround from trade afterthought to big leaguer. His first pass in the Indians’ rotation wasn’t exemplary, but he has pitched well as a starter for Triple-A Columbus. His stuff is good enough, but his improved command abandoned him in the big leagues, and remains the key to him remaining in the rotation in the long run.

The Indians kept McKenzie in extended spring training to start his first full professional season, and he excelled in the assignment. He has come out firing since joining short-season Mahoning Valley at the start of the New York-Penn League season, making the most of his advanced pitchability, repeatable delivery and plus fastball-curveball combination.

Following Francisco Lindor through the minor leagues, Gonzalez was promoted to Columbus last season and struggled at the plate. He has played much better back in Columbus again this year. He has also seen action at third base and in the outfield, as the Indians continue to try and give him positional versatility with Lindor set to man shortstop in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. He was called up to the big leagues for the first time following the Triple-A All-Star Game.

As he has advanced to Lynchburg this season, Chang has done a better job of tapping into his raw power, setting new career highs in doubles, triples and home runs in the first three months of the season. He’s also showing a more disciplined approach at the plate, while cutting down on some of his miscues in the field.

After a solid showing last year in his first full professional season, outfielder Greg Allen has hit even better this season with Lynchburg. He profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter, and has done a good job of getting on base for the Hillcats, while playing his customarily above-average defense in center field. Still 18 on Opening Day, shortstop Willi Castro is one of the youngest everyday players in the Midwest League. He has held his own against the older competition, showing a good mix of speed and power, as well as range in the field . . . A 22nd-round pick in 2013, righthander Ben Heller has pitched his way into consideration for a spot in the Indians’ bullpen. His fastball can reach 100 mph, and it typically sits 96-98. He has put up big strikeout totals throughout his minor league career thanks to his slider, and has shown he is capable of pitching in high-leverage situations, working as the closer this year both in Akron and Columbus.

In his first full season with the organization after being acquired for Brandon Moss last year, lefthander Rob Kaminsky has seen his strikeout rate plummet and his walk rate tick up as he advanced to Akron. Through June, he was averaging 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings, a decrease of two batters from his career average . . . When outfielder Mike Papi was coming out of Virginia in 2014, he was considered an advanced hitter. But it has been a slow adjustment to the minor leagues for the slugger. He got off to a solid start at Lynchburg, hitting seven home runs in 40 games to match his career home run total, but has slowed since a promotion to Akron, and all his power is to his pull side. Papi was a top-20 prospect coming into the year, and if this list stretched that far, he likely wouldn’t be on it.

Lefthander Brady Aiken was already recovering from Tommy John surgery when the Indians drafted him 17th overall last year. He missed all of last season as he rehabbed, and began this season in extended spring training as the Indians continued to be cautious. He made his professional debut June 20 in the Arizona League and should be ready to leave the complex during the second half if he continues to progress . . . Like Aiken, righthander Dylan Baker had Tommy John surgery last year and spent the first half of the season rehabbing his injury. He is on track to return to action in the second half . . . A left wrist injury landed outfielder Dorssys Paulino on the disabled list in mid-May. Wrist injuries can be difficult to recover from quickly, but the 21-year-old is working toward a return in the second half.

The Indians’ outfield depth has been tested by an injury to Michael Brantley and Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd being hit with PED suspensions. Their absences created an opportunity for Tyler Naquin and he has run with it. The 25-year old has taken over in center field for the Indians, and was named AL rookie of the month in June.

COMING ABOARD (Check Draft Database for all picks) The Indians' first five picks of the 2016 draft. (s-supplemental round)
1. Will Benson, of, The Westminster HS, Atlanta. A member of USA Baseball’s 18U world champions last year, Benson is a toolsy outfielder who stands out most for his bat speed and athleticism. He’ll need to smooth out his swing and approach as a professional, but he has the skill set to profile in right field.
2. Nolan Jones, ss, Holy Ghost Prep HS, Bensalem, Pa. Jones has developed physically over the last year, adding more raw lefthanded power and raising his profile as one of the best prep hitters in the class. He shows good athleticism and will get a chance to stick at short, but he’s already bigger than many shortstops and likely will move to third base.
2s. Logan Ice, c, Oregon State. A three-year starter at Oregon State, Ice took a leap forward offensively this spring and shot up draft boards as a result. A switch-hitter, he has a short swing from both sides of the plate and is a solid defender who uses his athleticism well behind the plate.
3. Aaron Civale, rhp, Northeastern. After his strong junior season, the Indians made Civale the highest drafted player from Northeastern in a decade. He pairs his fastball with an above-average slider and has a good feel for his craft.

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The Mariners stationed most of their top prospects at Double-A Arkansas in 2019 so they could grow together as a group.

4. Shane Bieber, rhp, UC Santa Barbara. Taking over from Dillon Tate as UC Santa Barbara’s ace this season, Bieber helped lead the Gauchos to the College World Series this season. Bieber doesn’t have a plus offering, but makes the most of his stuff thanks to his advanced pitchability and control.

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