Which Cleveland Indians could make MLB’s Top 100 next year?

(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Indians have five players ranked inside MLB’s top 100 for 2020. Which players are in the best position to join that list in 2021?

MLB Network released its Top 100 Players Right Now rankings last week. Five Cleveland Indians players ended up on the list: Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, and Carlos Santana.

But we’ve already discussed the players who made the cut. Let’s talk about the ones who didn’t. Which Indians players are in a position to take a step forward this year, and find themselves ranked inside the top 100 heading into the 2021 season?

Franmil Reyes probably has the easiest path by way of hitting a bunch of home runs. The mighty righty clubbed 27 of them in 354 plate appearances with the San Diego Padres in 2019 before coming over to Cleveland in a July trade. With the Indians, Reyes hit less than half as many home runs (10) in more than half the plate appearances (194).

This disparity is actually encouraging, depending on the light in which it is viewed. Reyes hit 17 of those first-half bombs with the Padres at home. Petco Park isn’t renowned for being a hitter-friendly venue, yet Reyes was still able to muscle the ball out of there regularly.

When he first arrived in Cleveland, he looked a lot like a young player who was getting used to a new city, new teammates, and new opposing pitching. It took awhile for Reyes to break out of his shell, but he did provide a few glimpses into what lies ahead. He also hit 10 doubles with Cleveland compared to nine with San Diego, so it’s not as though his ability to put a charge into a baseball completely dropped off a cliff after the trade.

In 2020, there will be no adjustment period for Reyes. Cleveland is his home now. If he was able to hit 17 homers in 52 games at a fly-ball dungeon like Petco, imagine the numbers he could produce in a full season at The Jake.

There’s also been plenty of buzz about the kind of physical shape he’s in:

Reyes could be in line for a more well-rounded 2020 campaign, making him the most clear-cut candidate among Indians players to be featured in the top 100 by this time next year.

Jake Bauers is another interesting name in this discussion. One could be forgiven for forgetting (or never even knowing) that Bauers was ranked as the 64th-best prospect in baseball prior to the 2018 season.

While 2019 was a disappointing first full season for the youngster, one sub-par campaign does not doom the rest of his career all by itself. There’s still plenty to like about Bauers if he can put it all together in his second year with the Tribe.

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Bauers has always been adept at getting on base throughout his minor league career, and he’s posted double-digit walk rates at every level since the start of 2016. What’s burdened him in the majors has been his strikeout rate, which sits at an even 27% through 811 plate appearances.

The good news on the strikeout front is that there’s not a ton of swing-and-miss in Bauers’ plate profile. His 9.2% swinging strike rate in 2019 ranked 67th-lowest out of 207 hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. Could it be better? Sure. But it’s not as if Bauers is up there helplessly lunging at pitches with no chance of making contact.

Mandy Bell of MLB.com reported that Bauers has spent a great deal of time working on his swing and his mental state this offseason. By all accounts, including his own, the work Bauers has put in since the end of 2019 has placed him in a much better frame of mind. Perhaps a massive improvement will follow that effort in 2020.

What about Oscar Mercado? Mercado was roughly an average hitter in 2019, but he served admirably as an everyday player for a team that suffered one injury after another. If he can add some more power and better on-base ability to a repertoire that already includes solid defense, base-running, and contact hitting, an appearance on next year’s Top 100 Players list is well within the realm of possibility.

There are other players with chances to find themselves on the list as well. Considering the seemingly never-ending pitching mill the Indians have developed, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac could theoretically take big enough leaps this year to qualify.

Roberto Perez is an elite defensive player at the most difficult position on the field. If he continues to excel in such fashion, it may be enough to overlook the fact that his offensive contributions fall short of the league’s better-hitting catchers.

There are only three relievers on the list this year, so it will probably take an otherworldly effort for either James Karinchak or Emmanuel Clase to earn a top-100 ranking heading into 2021. That said, the consensus on both young flamethrowers is that the sky is the limit.

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The 2020 Indians possess a solid blend of established players and youngsters with upside. If that upside finds its way into the spotlight this season, not only could a handful of the up-and-comers join the conversation on the league’s best players–the Indians could return to the conversation on the league’s best teams.