Outside of the big league club, there is no doubt that Indianapolis has the most talented squad in the entire organization. Top to bottom at every position, the team is loaded with prospects. This is especially true with the starting rotation. Tyler Glasnow is one of the top pitching prospects in the game, while Jameson Taillon was up there as well before he was derailed by Tommy John surgery in 2013. Chad Kuhl got a taste of Triple-A with a postseason start for Indianapolis, capping a breakout season. Steven Brault rivaled the coming out party that Kuhl saw in 2015, and showed what a steal the Travis Snider trade was. Trevor Williams comes over from the Marlins as compensation for losing Jim Benedict, and helps round out the rotation.
On offense, Josh Bell is viewed as one of the top pure hitting prospects across the game. He will now be in his second full season as a first baseman, and there are still occasional growing pains which is the main thing standing between him and Pittsburgh. The offensive game is polished despite Bell displaying more power from the left side of the plate.
Elias Diaz will be the featured catcher once he returns from an elbow ailment. Last season, Diaz split time behind the plate with Tony Sanchez, but this year he will see the bulk of the time at catcher. Joining Diaz, Alen Hanson returns to Indianapolis for his second season at the level. Inconsistency and learning a new position were the themes for Hanson in 2015. It is difficult for any hitter at any level to rival the May that Hanson had last season, but he got off to a slow start and finished the season cold. Additionally, Hanson saw time at third base to go along with second last season, which is expected to continue into 2016.
Willy Garcia will return to Indianapolis after joining the squad toward the middle of last season. After getting off to a slow start himself, Garcia got hot down the stretch for at Triple-A and showed the promise that he has at the plate with power, along with a strong outfield arm that had him near the league leaders in outfield assists. Gift Ngoepe joined the team toward the middle of the season as well, and continued to show his defensive prowess at shortstop. The fact that neither player cracks the top 10 prospects at the level just speaks to the true depth.
After strong campaigns with Altoona last season, Max Moroff and Adam Frazier join the Indianapolis squad this season. This leads to the biggest question for Dean Treanor: where do you fill all of these prospects in on a daily basis?
2016 Indianapolis Indians Top 10 Prospects
1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP – While Glasnow is one of the top pitching prospects in the game, he still has some work to do at the level. Glasnow battled an ankle injury with Altoona, but returned and dominated the level with improved control, earning him a mid-season promotion to Indianapolis. After getting off to a strong start with Indianapolis in his first couple of outings, Glasnow really struggled with command and the results suffered. Though he was able to work his way out of some innings due to his stuff, getting more command out of his off-speed pitches is key to his development, as is his consistency at the level. In one outing, Glasnow was only able to retire one hitter, allowing six runs on five walks. However, that was not his season high in walks at the level, as he allowed six free passes in 4.2 innings in his second start.
Despite the issues he needs to work on, Glasnow has plus-plus velocity with his fastball and a plus breaking ball when it is going right. There are big things expected of the tall righty in 2016, after showing some flashes last season. Having some time at Triple-A under his belt should help to calm the nerves that we saw last season. He also needs to improve throwing the curveball for strikes early in the count, to keep hitters from sitting on the fastball. Glasnow could be up in Pittsburgh in the second half of the 2016 season.
2. Josh Bell, 1B – There is no questioning Bell’s ability at the plate. The switch-hitter has skills beyond his young years, even though his game at the plate is constantly evolving. This is proof by the changes with his leg kick over the past year, leading to better offense, and finally tapping into his raw power. Bell hit .347 in 121 at bats with Indianapolis last season after earning a promotion from Altoona. The only thing that is not fully polished for Bell is the power, hitting just seven home runs in 489 at bats last season. While the home runs have not shown through just yet, Bell did have 24 doubles and nine triples in 2015 for a .838 OPS between Altoona and Indianapolis.
The offensive game is clearly nearing big league ready, with Bell’s swing looking smoother than ever from both sides, rather than the two-part awkward swing he showed from the right side in the past. The main question with Bell is his adaptation to playing first base. This will be his second full season at the position. While there were some expected headaches early, and they will continue to appear, Bell looked much more comfortable in the role coming into the year, and will need to continue that development this season.
3. Jameson Taillon, RHP – Coming off two of the most frustrating seasons he has seen, Taillon looks to bounce back strong in 2016 with Indianapolis. After having Tommy John surgery at the beginning of 2014, Taillon missed that entire season. When he was just about to return last season, he endured a sports hernia that resulted in him being shut down again. For Taillon, 2016 is about finally making the jump to the majors that he was projected to make in each of the previous two years.
Prior to the injury, Taillon appeared in six games with Indianapolis, posting a 3.89 ERA, while averaging a strikeout per inning. He also walked 16 hitters in 37 innings, and allowed 31 hits. His stuff, post surgery, is much better, with the best and easiest mechanics he’s shown in his career. Taillon’s stuff is Major League ready. This spring, the fastball life is back, as Taillon is in the mid-90s, while the rest of his stuff appears crisp as he looks for a strong 2016 campaign. The one thing he will need before arriving in the majors is experience against upper level hitters, working on his pitch sequencing, and polishing everything off after two years with no time against upper level hitting. He should make the jump to Pittsburgh in the second half.
4. Alen Hanson, 2B – Hanson is traditionally a slow starter, and showed that again last season in Indianapolis, hitting just .234 in April with one extra base hit. He rebounded in May with one of the best months that anyone could have, posting a .998 OPS with a .362 average. During the month, he had eight doubles, five triples, and three home runs. That success was short-lived. Hanson returned to hitting .206 in a June that saw him only pick up 13 total hits. Additionally, he topped only .600 OPS in one month the rest of the season. Hanson clearly has the tools at the plate and speed on the base paths, stealing 35 bases in 2015. It is just about putting it all together and sustaining consistency.
Hanson also changed positions last season, moving from shortstop to second base, which led to better consistency on the field. This year he will primarily play second base, but will get some time at third, short, and a start a week in the outfield. While mistakes do still occasionally happen defensively, Hanson looked like a better fit at second with his arm and range, and profiles as a future starter at the position with the Pirates. He should be the top option if the Pirates need an infielder from Triple-A, especially if they need a starting option.
5. Elias Diaz, C – The 2016 season is already off to a rough start for Diaz, who was shut down at the end of Spring Training with elbow soreness. Fortunately, he won’t need surgery. Similar to Hanson, Diaz saw a tough April at the plate with Indianapolis in 2015. He hit just .203 with a .559 OPS. However, opposite of Hanson, Diaz was consistent the remainder of the season at the plate. Diaz has sneaky and developing power that does not necessarily show up in the stats. While he had just four home runs for the season, Diaz also had 16 doubles and four triples in 325 at bats.
With Tony Sanchez gone, Diaz will be the everyday catcher at the level once he returns from the injury. With the crowded position last season, Diaz split time behind the plate with Sanchez fairly evenly. This didn’t impact his defense, where he is clearly polished, but made it difficult for him to excel offensively. He has one of the strongest arms at catcher, works well with the pitching staff, and is regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in minor league baseball. It is all about how the offensive game continues to develop. He will be the top backup option in Pittsburgh when he’s healthy, with the chance to be the starter in 2017.
6. Chad Kuhl, RHP – Kuhl got an opportunity to get his feet wet with Indianapolis last season in a championship playoff series start, after a strong season with Altoona. The right-hander did not disappoint in the game either, going seven inning and allowing just one run on six hits against the eventual International League champion. Prior to that, with Altoona, Kuhl was basically unhittable in the second half of 2015. He posted a 1.38 ERA with a WHIP under 1.00 after July 1 in Double-A. Additionally, he saw an uptick in velocity. While the sinker was sitting around 94, he was also touching 97 at times over the span.
After experiencing some minor soreness in Spring Training, Kuhl was set back from the other starters and will miss the beginning of the season. Expected to miss just a couple of starts, Kuhl will jump into the Indianapolis rotation toward the middle of April. Combining the velocity with the downward movement that Kuhl gets with the sinker makes that a devastating pitch. He will need an out pitch to pair with the sinker, and has been improving his slider in the last year. Kuhl could be an option for the big leagues this year, and projects as a guy who could be a number four starter in the future, with the chance to be a number three if the slider improves to above-average.
7. Steven Brault, LHP – After a breakout 2015 season, Brault will make the jump to the Indianapolis rotation in 2016. After getting off to a slow start in his first three outings with Bradenton last season, it was hard to find anyone in the organization as successful as Brault. With that success, he earned a promotion to Altoona after 13 starts. Brault limited solid contact most of the season in Altoona, keeping all but one pitch inside the yard in 90 innings. He also held left-handed hitters to just a .401 OPS.
While he doesn’t have the explosive stuff as some of the other starters, the former player to be named in the Travis Snider deal gets by with movement, deception, and location. Brault’s bread and butter is a sinker that hits in the high 80s and has late cutting movement. He has improved a four seam fastball that reaches 93. A slider and a changeup are also in his arsenal, although the slider is a new focus, aimed at finally getting him an out pitch. The 2016 season will be a key for Brault to build on the success of 2015, and could have him in the talks for a future rotation spot in Pittsburgh.
8. Max Moroff, 2B – With his promotion to Indianapolis, it appears that Moroff is going to get the opportunity to play a few different positions with the crowded infield at the level. After a marginal 2014 season at the plate, Moroff still saw a promotion to Altoona in 2015. While there, he enjoyed a breakout campaign, hitting .293 with a .783 OPS. Moroff also added 28 doubles and seven home runs in 523 at-bats last season. He added more power as the season went along last year, but his strikeout numbers also went up consequently. How he progresses with the power, while balancing the average, will be a nice story line for Moroff in 2016.
Moroff will spend most of his time at third base this season, while also getting some starts at second when Alen Hanson is playing elsewhere. He has played shortstop in the past, but won’t get a lot of time at the position. He could also learn the outfield at some point, to add more flexibility. His path to the majors in the future is as a utility player, and he could help out in 2016 as a depth option for the bench.
9. Trevor Williams, RHP – Williams was acquired in a lopsided trade by the Pirates from the Marlins, and it was reported later that it was compensation for losing Jim Benedict. Williams works with both a four-seam and two-seam fastball that each sits in the low 90s, but has touched as high as 97 in the past. Williams also will go to his changeup more often than a breaking ball. He throws a curve and a slider, although the slider is the pitch that he was working heavily on in the spring. While he doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters, Williams is effective at keeping the ball on the ground and getting outs by pitching to contact.
In 2015, Williams got an opportunity to get his feet wet in Triple-A, posting a 2.57 ERA in just 14 innings in the Marlins organization. Control was occasionally an issue for Williams last season, as his walk numbers did go up. Improving the slider as an out pitch and getting back to controlling his sinker are the keys to the right-hander with Indianapolis this season. He’s another guy who could be rotation depth in Pittsburgh down the line, or could help out in the bullpen.
10. Adam Frazier, 2B – Adam Frazier saw a breakout season with Altoona at the plate last year, and just missed out on the Eastern League batting crown by a technicality. Frazier had one huge month, hitting .424 in June, and while he didn’t match that going forward, he maintained consistency the rest of the year, as in his worst month he still had a .283 average. Frazier is very limited on his power, but does have the ability to go gap-to-gap and compiled 21 doubles in 377 at-bats last season.
Though he is a natural shortstop, Frazier will likely be moving around a lot this season. He could see time at second and short, while other players take a day off, but the outfield looks like a more likely spot for Frazier in Indianapolis this season. While it will be difficult for Frazier to repeat the success of 2015 completely, if he is able to have a strong campaign, he could certainly get himself into the conversation of an eventual bench spot with the Pirates. He’s a future super utility player, with value due to his ability to play short in a backup role, and his ability to play left and center field.
Other Notable Prospects
Nick Kingham would be included in this list, but it’s doubtful that he will return to Indianapolis at all this season, as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. He’s mentioned here because there is no other place to list him in the season previews, and we didn’t want to leave a top ten prospect out of the previews. Willy Garcia and Gift Ngoepe are two of the top 50 prospects in the system, but don’t even make the top 10 list in Indianapolis, showing off the depth at this level. Garcia has the best outfield arm in the minor league system, and some of the best raw power, but struggles with his strikeouts and doesn’t hit for average on a consistent basis. Ngoepe is the strongest defensive shortstop in the system, and has a lot of speed, but doesn’t hit enough with the bat to make him more than a backup in the majors. Both could be depth options at some point this year. Jacob Stallings is another notable prospect at the level. He starts the season as the number three catcher on the MLB depth chart with Elias Diaz injured, but would drop back to being a backup in Indianapolis when Diaz returns. Long-term, he comps to Chris Stewart, with the chance to be a backup catcher in the majors due to his defense and work with the pitchers. Dan Gamache just missed our top 50 prospect list, and just misses on starting in Indianapolis this year. He would be a starter at any other level, but will be a bat off the bench, playing first, second, and third throughout the year. He could have a shot at being a utility guy in the majors one day.