The Indians have one of the weakest collections of young talent in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus (one of the most respected baseball sites in existence). The Tribe ranks 25th on BP's 25-and-Under Talent Rankings (free), which were released earlier this week.
BP released its farm system rankings a week earlier, and the Indians were 20th on that list, which isn't great, but is better than 25th. The 25-and-Under list includes prospects and players already on the MLB team who meet the age requirements. It's a lack of good, young players already on the team that hurts the Indians.
Here are BP's top ten for the team (with their age):
1. Francisco Lindor (20)
2. Clint Frazier (19)
3. Danny Salazar (24)
4. Tyler Naquin (22)
5. Cody Anderson (23)
6. Trevor Bauer (23)
7. Francisco Mejia (18)
8. Jose Ramirez (21)
9. Ronny Rodriguez (21)
10. Dorssys Paulino (19)
Salazar is the only one on that list who's made a significant contribution to the team already (while Bauer and Ramirez have debuted, but played little), and the only one expected to make the 25-man roster to begin the season. On the other hand, look at a team like the Cardinals, who place at the very top of BP's list: They have Shelby Miller (23), Michael Wacha (22), Carlos Martinez (22), and Trevor Rosenthal (23) in their top five, already helping the team, and each of them is eligible for these rankings for another two or three years. Lindor, Frazier, and Salazar are a great start, but as BP says, "It's a list that starts with a bang and then quickly fizzles after the top three."
As has been said here many times by many people, young talent is a necessity for the long-term health of a low-revenue team like the Indians. Signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn last offseason was nice, and it paid off as the team won 92 games and a spot in the Wild Card Game, but that kind of spending isn't going to be the norm (this offseason's big additions, David Murphy and John Axford, are about what's to be expected). The team has the money to extend Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis, and keep its core together for the next 3 or 4 years, but further improvements must primarily come from within, and there doesn't appear to be a massive infusion on the way.
Pitching especially, is a concern. If the front office decides Masterson's price is too high, and lets him go after this season, the team will probably need Salazar, Bauer, and Anderson all to pan out if they're to have a plus rotation in the next five years.
The good news is, BP describes the Tribe's farm system as trending upwards, and aside from Salazar, all of the players on the 25-and-under list are 23 or younger, so the team will probably rank higher in each of the next couple years. The Indians already have a strong set of position players, who tied for 4th in the American League in runs per game last year, and reinforcements seem to be in place for when players like Swisher and Bourn are no longer contributors.
The lowest point for the team's pool of young talent is behind them, but things still aren't where they need to be for a team with Cleveland's market constraints; General Manager Chris Antonetti and his staff will need to put together a couple more good drafts to continue restocking the farm system and put the Tribe in a position for sustained success.