The Cleveland Indians have some depth in the minors and, in spite of the 2019 season being over, serious fans have taken to the analytics and are starting to make predictions and even jumping in on some early action making some all star bets in preparation for what promises to be an incredible 2020 season. Here’s a little insider info about 2 up and coming prospects that are making a major buzz around the minor league.
Bo Naylor – C – Age: 19
Drafted 2018, Round 1
A Lake County
The Canadian powerhouse skipped Mahoning Valley this year, playing his first season of pro ball in Lake County. After a solid season in Arizona in 2018, Naylor put together a nice, but very different, season in A ball. This year was more of what was initially expected as his strike out rate jumped slightly, but his power rose significantly. After just eight total extra base hits in 2018, he had 18 doubles, 10 triples and 11 home runs in his second season, raising his SLG to .421.
The drawback to Naylor’s nice season is that his walk rate also fell significantly, from 15.1% to 9.5%, dropping his OBP down to .313. It is very possible that Naylor was a bit overwhelmed as a teenager in A ball, and it appears he also saw a decrease in line drives and pulled balls. As he regains his confidence, I would expect the walk rate to rise and for him to start pulling the ball with more authority.
Another knock on Naylor is that he is very quickly going to be labeled as a poor defender and that is something the Indians will not stand for behind the plate. He tried out third a bit last year to no avail, then committed 13 errors while allowing 14 passed balls this season. He was used as DH 22 times as well, but if he can’t play a position, his value will be severely diminished. Since he is still young, the Indians should use 2020 to figure out exactly where he can play to maximize his offensive value while minimizing the damage he does on defense.
Brayan Rocchio – SS – Age: 18
2017 International Free Agent
SS Mahoning Valley
Rocchio is an extremely athletic switch hitting middle infielder who is an excellent defender at second, short and third. He has a great arm, speed and range that make him fit well in any of the three positions. This defensive prowess is what really separates him from his fellow 2017 classmate who sits a few places higher in the 2019 rankings.
Offensively, Rocchio was very impressive in 2018, hitting .335/.390/.442 as a 17 rookie in Arizona, although those numbers dropped a bit in his second season. Rocchio is an early count swinger who counts on his good contact skills and speed to get on base often rather than attempting to work walks and risking more strike outs. This means that when his BABIP is low, as it was in 2019 (.276, nearly 100 points lower than 2018), his overall numbers can be drastically deflated.
Part of this decrease in BABIP could be more than luck as he began pulling the ball more and hitting more fly balls rather than hitting line drives to all fields. Of course, the improved defense in the NY/Penn League compared to Arizona will also knock off quite a few points of BABIP. In the end, his performance over the final month of 2019 (.292/.340/.458 with a .312 BABIP and 15 strike outs in 104 plate appearances) is probably the closest sample that we can look at when predicting his future. While not his 2018 numbers, these are still incredibly impressive and could have him on a serious MLB trajectory.
Daniel Espino – RHSP – Age: 18
Drafted 2019, Round 1
SS Mahoning Valley
While velocity has been all the rage for some time with many pitchers reaching triple digits, the Indians haven’t really had anyone, specifically a starter, who could hit 100. Espino changes that.
Espino has a great story as well as he wasn’t signed as an amateur free agent out of Panama, so he and his family moved to Georgia where he went to high school for a second chance at the big leagues. After increasing his velocity to the upper 90’s as a teenager, the Indians took him in the first round this year.
After starting in Arizona and averaging just over two innings per appearance, he moved on to Mahoning Valley where he averaged more than three over his final three starts. In addition to stretching out his arm, Espino was busy striking everyone out, particularly in one game against Williamsport where he K’d 9 in four innings. Overall, he struck out 34 in 23.2 innings with just ten walks and 16 hits allowed.
His fastball is already elite, although he will need to continue to work on his secondary pitches if he wants to start. If the Indians want to fast track him, it wouldn’t be surprising if he started for the Captains next year instead of hanging around in Arizona until Mahoning Valley starts up again.