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. […]
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 right handed starting pitchers in Cleveland’s system
10. Hunter Gaddis (4 points)
Highest level reached (most games played): SS Mahoning Valley
The Tribe drafted Hunter Gaddis in the fifth round of the 2019 MLB Draft from Georgia State. The right-handed pitched for Team USA in 2017 and on the Cape Cod League in 2018. Gaddis throws a four-pitch mix with above-average control. The righty stands 6’5, 215 lbs, and delivers with a ¾ arm angle that produces low-to-mid 90’s fastballs. His slider is an above-average pitch; his changeup is likely his third-best pitch, with his curveball lagging behind his other pitches. The right-hander has number 3 or 4 upside if his secondaries continue to improve.
9. Eli Morgan (9 points)
Highest level reached (most games played): Double-A Akron (102 innings)
Morgan has a double-plus changeup, and two other fringe-average pitches to go with above average command. It’s enough to work as a backend type starter but maybe works better as reliever or a bulk innings type arm. He’s a crafty and studious pitcher who can turn a lineup over twice. It’s a safer projection with a limited ceiling which is why he still makes the top-10 but falls to the back behind other higher profile arms. It it just a matter of time before he makes the majors, however.
8. Luis Oviedo (11 points)
Highest level reached: Low-A Lake County (87 innings)
Depending on when you saw Oviedo pitch in 2019, he either looked like a top-20 prospect in the system, or he looked hurt and more of a backend rotation arm. His velo ranged from 88-96 at times. He’s had lower back issues in the past, partially could be blamed on mechanics and shape. He’s a big bodied kid and a little more toning work could help him stay healthy and get into the positions of his delivery to take pressure off his back. He has four potentially above average pitches and above average command. A top of the rotation ceiling is there, we just haven’t seen it consistently yet in the minors and he needs health, too.
7. Cody Morris (12 points)
Highest level reached: High-A Lynchburg (44 innings)
Morris had his workload monitored due to college injuries and heavy work in his last year at South Carolina. We’ve yet to see how the stuff holds up beyond the sixth inning, but mostly what we see is three average to above average pitches and better command than he had in college. There’s some relief risk in his profile, especially if there are workload concerns. He is listed at instructs as a reliever, but for now we think he’ll get a chance to start and has exciting rotation upside if they let his workload progress.
6. Lenny Torres Jr. (14 points)
Highest level reached: AZL Indians Blue
Torres (pictured at top) started off slow in his rookie season, pitching just 15.1 innings across six appearances in the AZL looking extremely positive throughout with a 1.76 ERA and 22 strikes to four walks. He was ramping things up in 2019, most likely headed to Mahoning Valley, when he had to put things on hold due to Tommy John surgery. He would have been back in time for 2020 had the season occurred, but instead missed a second season by no fault of his own. Given his great command and movement, I expect him to come back stronger than ever in 2021 and he should retain his potential ace status.
5. Carlos Vargas (15 points)
Highest level reached: (Rookie) Mahoning Valley
Carlos Vargas was recently voted onto two of the top lists (fastball and slider) here at IBI. It is a lot of attention for a young arm that’s a lesser-known talent, but the upside is there. I’ve seen Vargas several times and don’t recall seeing his fastball below 94-95, and he touched 97-98. His slider is one of the best secondary offerings in the system; it generates a two-plane break with a sweeping movement. It is a true out pitch and is the righty’s best pitch. His changeup lags and needs continued refinement. Overall, he’s an exciting young arm with mid-rotation potential.
4. Tanner Burns (18 points)
Highest level reached: N/A
Cleveland drafted Tanner Burns 36th overall in the 2020 MLB Draft signing the University of Auburn right-hander to an under slot bonus of $1.6 million. The Alabama native has a strong track record of success at the collegiate level. He features a low-to-mid 90’s fastball that touches 97 along with an above-average slider and changeup. Burns displays above-average control and has a bulldog mentality on the mound. These traits could help the righthander develop into a middle of the rotation type arm. Overall, Burns offers some upside with the potential to move quickly and a solid floor.
3. Ethan Hankins (26 points)
Highest level reached: Low-A Lake County (21.1 innings)
An electric fastball and an emerging slider/changeup combo blew hitters away in shortseason ball in 2019. He clearly wasn’t being tested by his competition and he went to Lake County, where he finally was a little. Hankins now looks like he’s being pushed by his own teammates. He was reportedly much more toned at the Alternate Training site in summer 2020, putting to rest some notion of having a soft body. He’s only 20 and is already physically very big. But the ceiling is also big for Hankins who maybe just needed a little toning to repeat his delivery and get into some positions to take advantage of his gifts and pitches on the mound. Too soon to put a ceiling on him.
2. Triston McKenzie (27 points)
Highest level reached: MLB (33.1 innings)
After missing half a season in 2018 (and the playoffs) and a full year in 2019, McKenzie finally returned healthy in 2020 and made his MLB debut under unique circumstances. While he showed some old eye raising patterns (velocity dips) he showed the promise of the pick that he was drafted for. He added a slider to his repertoire and it became a legitimate out pitch despite lacking any elite pitch characteristics. The body type/injury concerns remain, but we know he can get big league hitters out. There’s still upside left as well, which is why he landed this high on this list.
1. Daniel Espino (28 points)
Highest level reached: SS Mahoning Valley
Espino was the Indians 2019 first round pick, after moving to Georgia for high school when he wasn’t signed as an international free agent out of Panama. He added extra velocity while pitching for the Georgia Premier Academy and is now arguably the hardest throwing Indians starter. He used that velo and great command to strike out 34 in 23.2 innings as a rookie and very likely could have made it to Lake County had there been a season this year.
Due to his incredible talent at such a young age, Espino has the highest ceiling of all the players on this list, although his floor is obviously lower than those like McKenzie who have already dominated at a higher level. Espino has the raw stuff to be an ace and has already shown he’s willing to put in the work necessary to improve himself.