The Cleveland Indians rotation is finally returning to its championship caliber form of 2016. The good news for Tribe fans is that the Indians’ farm system is going to supply the big league rotation and bullpen with quality arms over the next few years, and even a potential star or two.
1. Triston McKenzie
At only 19 years old, the Indians 1st round pick in 2015 is already one of the best prospects in the entire Cleveland farm system, and in the top 60 in all of baseball. Last year with Mahoning Valley of the New York-Pennsylvania League McKenzie posted a 0.55 ERA in 9 starts. Over 49.1 innings he managed to only give up three earned runs while striking out 55. After his early success at low A, McKenzie was called up to Lake County (A) in the second half of the season. While his ERA came back down to Earth just a little, he still posted a respectable 3.18 ERA in six games. Over 34 innings pitched, McKenzie had 49 strikeouts (13 SO/9), and a 0.971 WHIP.
This year in Lynchburg (A+) McKenzie has maintained his success of last year posting similar numbers (3.28 ERA, 91 SO in 71.1 IP, and a 1.037 WHIP). His fastball is getting up to 95 MPH at times, which should get even faster when he grows into his body and gains some weight ( He is 6’5”, 165). He has a formidable curve ball, and his change-up needs a little work, but continues to improve. It will probably be another three years before we see McKenzie making an impact in Cleveland, but if he continues at this pace we could see him in Akron (AA) before the end of the season.
2. Matt Esparza
At 22 years old Esparza is an interesting prospect in that he started his college career as a shortstop, but was able to make the transition to pitcher without much of a problem, gaining the attention of Major League scouts while still at UC Irvine. So far between Lynchburg (A+) and Akron (AA) in 2017, Esparza has posted a 2.80 ERA through 13 games and 74 innings. With a WHIP of 1.041
One knock on Esparza is his velocity. He struggles to reach the low 90’s, but fortunately his curve and slider are dominant enough that they can be used as put-out pitches. If Esparza isn’t able to add any velocity to his fastball he will have to develop pinpoint accuracy to find success at the big league level. Another negative is that he struggles from the stretch. From the wind-up Esparza has solid mechanics, but when he tries to go to the stretch, things fall apart.
While Esparza does have some struggles, none of them are insurmountable, and he has continued to improve each year and at every level. It will probably be a few years, but look for Matt Esparza to make an impact in the majors in the next few years.
3. Julian Merryweather
Merryweather is quickly moving up this top-10 list. This year he has already gone from Akron (AA) to Columbus (AAA) compiling a 7-2 record with a 3.76 ERA.
4. Aaron Civale
In 2017 between Lynchburg (A-) and Lake County (A) Civale posted a 3.94 ERA over 14 starts. In 82.1 IP he had 76 SO with a 1.069 WHIP. Civale is projected to be a middle reliever in the majors.
5. Shane Bieber
The 22 year old was just drafted in 2016 but is already with Lake County (A) where he has a 3.58 ERA in 13 starts and 69 SO.
6. Cameron Hill
Hill’s stuff isn’t anything overly exceptional, but he has managed to be extremely effective. After a brief call-up to (AAA) Columbus in 2016, he is in Akron (AA) this year where he has a 2.33 ERA in 38.2 IP over 18 games.
7. Dylan Baker
After appearing in only one game in 2015 Baker had Tommy John Surgery which is why he is so low on this list. This year in 9 games Baker is 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA as a reliever in only 8.1 IP. If Baker can stay healthy expect to see good things from him in the future.
8. Leandro Linares
Cuban born Linares struggled during his firs two years with the Indians, but in 2016 he really turned it around posting a combined 1.21 ERA in his time with all three A ball teams earning the final spot on this top-10 list. If he can show some consistancy, he should make his way up the list before too long.