Jhonkensy Noel is an exciting 20-year-old prospect putting up huge numbers in Low-A ball, and could be in a Cleveland Indians / Cleveland Guardians uniform sooner than later.
The Cleveland Indians have some pretty big questions at first base right now, but there might be an answer waiting in the minor-league system in the form of 20-year-old Jhonkensy Noel.
And he might be in a Guardians uniform sooner than later.
Noel, who only just turned 20 on July 15, has set the Low-A East on fire this season to the tune of a .393/.426/.693 line with 11 home runs, 40 RBIs, and a whopping 190 wRC+ in 150 at-bats. Most importantly for Noel’s future success, he has lowered his strikeout rate to 16.7%, the lowest of his career to this point. Right now, he has almost as many extra-base hits (11) as strikeouts (24).
Every scouting report acknowledges that Noel knows how to mash it. Watch any of his home runs from this season and you’ll certainly come to the same conclusion:
The only thing that will ever keep him back from the Majors is, much like Bobby Bradley, the strikeouts. If his improvement in that area is any indication, things are looking quite good for the young infielder.
But again, it’s that power of his that no doubt has Cleveland salivating. Listed as a first/third baseman, it’s likely that Noel, who the Indians signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2017 as an international free agent, will ultimately project as a first baseman as he continues to grow into his frame. He’s listed at 6’1″, 180 pounds, but other reports have him already at 6’3″, 250 pounds.
Noel has massive pull power and exit velocities on par with some of the biggest sluggers in the Majors. The swing-and-miss weakness will probably always be there to some extent even with his improvements, but his pitch recognition is likely to keep getting better, too. Cleveland will absolutely take any of those weaknesses if Noel is hitting 30-40 home runs a year into the Progressive Field bleachers on a regular basis.
Just listen to that pop:
All that being said, Noel is still so young, even as he plays above his typical age range in the minors. Not to mention he’s battled injuries this year and was coming back from a lost 2020 season. We’ve seen players react to that in a variety of ways, but it hasn’t stopped Noel and his development; he should absolutely be in Double-A Akron at some point early next season, though the Indians will be careful to let him get as many reps in the minors as possible.
In the meantime, Cleveland is trying to piece something together at the position. In a perfect world, Bobby Bradley wouldn’t strike out so much and would fit in perfectly as the prototypical power-hitting first baseman. But he’s prone to some pretty freezing cold streaks, evidenced by a .177/.313/.342 line with just three home runs in 79 at-bats, dating back to July 1.
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He’s still getting on base at a decent clip, but he also struck out 41 times in those 79 at-bats, all of which is a far cry from his solid June, in which he hit .254/.321/.634 and eight home runs. Currently, Bradley is on the IL with a strained left knee.
Other options at first have included Josh Naylor, Yu Chang, and Owen Miller, none of whom inspire a ton of confidence at the position in the long-term. Naylor is of course injured, so it’s unfair to write him off at first, but his future seems destined for the Cleveland outfield. Chang and Miller are both trying to find their way on this team, but a utility role seems the most likely path down the road.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Indians do with Noel this winter, as he will become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. It seems unlikely that a team would scoop up Noel even with his outstanding numbers, as he’s never played above Low-A ball and the team that acquires him would have to keep him on the roster the entire season.
But other teams are certainly keeping tabs on a guy who is tearing up Low-A pitching at this rate, so anything’s possible, and the Indians may want to add Noel to the 40-man roster this offseason with the intention of seeing just how far he rockets up the system in 2022. He probably won’t end up in a Guardians uniform next season but, like I said, anything’s possible.