Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospects: No. 8, Yu-Cheng Chang

Our second straight player to jump 14 spots, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang comes in at number 8 on our Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospect countdown.

Who is Yu-Cheng Chang?

Yu-Cheng Chang jumps from 22nd on last year’s list, tying Greg Allen for the largest jump among 2016 top 30 prospects (14 spots). Chang joined the Cleveland Indians in 2013 when the team signed him as an amateur free agent out of high school in Taiwan. The 21-year-old shortstop was signed for $500,000, making him one of the larger international signings in the system.

He bats right-handed and spent the 2016 minor league system at Advanced-A Lynchburg before finishing the season in the Arizona Fall League. Like Allen, Chang was also a member of the nixed Jonathan Lucroy deal this summer that would have sent him to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Chang first impressed as a prospect in 2014, when as an 18-year-old he hit .346 with a .966 OPS in his first pro season at the Tribe’s Arizona Rookie Affiliate. He cooled off a bit in 2015, hitting just .232 with a sub-.700 OPS. He bounced back though this past year, hitting .259 with a .795 OPS in 109 games with the Hillcats.

He continues to show off plus-power for his size and position, hitting 13 home runs and posting a .204 ISO (isolated power) in 2016. It was the second time in three seasons he’s posted an ISO over .200 (2014). He also hit 30 doubles and eight triples, for a total of 51 extra-base hits for the Hillcats in 2016.

Chang has room to grow into his 6-foot-1 frame as he is still only about 175 pounds, meaning there’s still room for him to add even more power as he adds strength. And while there is some swing-and-miss in his bat (as typical of many young power hitters), Chang has done a decent job of putting the ball in play, posting strikeout rates around 23 percent each of the last two seasons.

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Chang also improved his walk rate in 2016, jumping from 6.1 percent in 2015 to 9.4 percent in 2016. The nine percent mark was in line with his 2014 season as well. However, Chang’s biggest impression in 2016 may have come with the glove, not with the bat.

After splitting time between shortstop and third base in 2014, Chang has played exclusively shortstop the last two minor league seasons. He even improved his fielding percentage from .948 in 2015 to .964 this past summer.

There’s still a chance when he fills out he could be forced to third base and his arm would more than play there, but for now, he’s proving doubters wrong and looks like he could develop into an average defensive shortstop. Chang provides good, but not great speed as well, stealing 11 bases in 14 tries this year.

Where does he go from here?

Chang entered 2016 as a top shortstop prospect with the bat, but some questions remained with the glove and if he could hold off the barrage of infielders the Indians have in the minors. Not only did he hold them all off, he’s become the clear number one shortstop prospect in the system.

After his impressive season at Lynchburg and in the AFL, Chang would appear ready for his greatest challenge yet in Double-A, where he’ll open as the RubberDucks’ starting shortstop at just 21 years old.

Chang drew a lot of interest at the deadline, not only being included in the failed Lucroy deal but also reportedly discussed with the New York Yankees this summer. Chang’s upside is as good as any infielder in the system; however, the Indians are also very loaded at the position, so Chang’s path to the big leagues remains somewhat murky with Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Jose Ramirez all under control for several years.

Chang could be big league ready sometime in 2018 but it may take him longer to get to the majors, assuming he remains a member of the Cleveland Indians organization.

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