Oops. For the first time since I started out the WFNY Wahoos, I missed my Wednesday goal. So today, even though it’s Friday, enjoy your weekly dose of Cleveland Indians minor league news and updates. No Tribe game last night, so this is your morning substitute.
Yes, the Indians remain 36-32 entering this weekend’s series against the Houston Astros. Yes, Cleveland still has a slight half-game lead over the Chicago White Sox and a 2.5-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, and appears on the verge of possibly entering July in first place.
But all season, we’ve been talking about how this year’s different is drastically different from the one that faltered down the stretch in 2011. Sure, you can look at the addition of guys like Ubaldo Jimenez, Nick Hagadone and Lonnie Chisenhall, but then you also have some other pieces such as Johnny Damon and Aaron Cunningham.
Which brings me to trades. I might be in the minority, but I firmly believe the Indians will make some type of deal by the deadline in five weeks. Some early names we have heard already include Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Carlos Quentin and Josh Willingham. There’s no doubt that the initial target would be a right-handed corner outfielder.
And when you look at what the Tribe could offer in a potential deal, you’d initially want to exclude top prospect SS Francisco Lindor. From there, almost anything could be fair game, especially the impressive number of decent pitchers in AA and AAA. Guys like LHP T.J. McFarland, RHP Cody Allen, LHP T.J. House and RHP Corey Kluber might not be the most-wanted trade pieces, but they’ll likely be decent major leaguers at some point.
In the coming weeks, you’ll likely hear more and more about names like that down in Columbus and Akron. That upper-level pitching depth (along with some outfield depth with the return of two injured guys) is the key strength of the organization, and likely would be a focus in any trade.
I realize not many people care too much about minor league baseball standings – and for good reason. But this also is a good tool to see the relative strength of our combined prospects overall at different minor league levels. The first half has passed in some full-season leagues, while the short-season leagues have just started.
AAA Columbus Clippers: 35-39 (.473), 2/4 place, 9.5 GB in International League West
AA Akron Aeros: 45-27 (.625), 1/6 place, 8.5 game lead in Eastern League West
High-A Carolina Mudcats: 32-38 (.457), 4/4 place, 12.5 GB in Carolina League South in FIRST HALF
High-A Carolina Mudcats: 1-0 (1.000), T-1/4 place, 0.5 GB in Carolina League South in SECOND HALF
A Lake County Captains: 31-38 (.449), 6/8 place, 16.0 GB in Midwest League East in FIRST HALF
Short-Season Mahoning Valley: 2-2 (.500), T-2/6 place, 1.0 GB in NY-Penn League Pinckney
Minor league transactions can be monotonous, boring and meaningless to the average fan. Thus, I always trim through all of the pages of details to bring you just the highlights from the past week. Dates listed are the official date of record, not necessarily when the transaction actually was announced.
June 13: OF Matt LaPorta optioned from Cleveland to AAA Columbus
June 14: OF Bo Greenwell (offseason knee surgery) activated and added to High-A Carolina’s roster
June 15: OF Jordan Henry (offseason knee surgery) activated and added to AA Akron’s roster
June 15: 3B Kyle Bellows (sprained left wrist) placed on AA Akron’s 7-day disabled list
June 15: LHP Scott Barnes optioned from Cleveland to AAA Columbus
June 16: 3B Andy LaRoche (left shoulder strain) placed on AAA Columbus’ 7-day disabled list
June 17: RHP Hector Ambriz released from AAA Columbus roster
June 18: Short-Season Mahoning Valley unveils opening day roster
June 20: RHP Toru Murata (left calf strain) placed on AA Akron’s 7-day disabled list
June 22: 2B Robel Garcia assigned to Short-Season Mahoning Valley from A Lake County
June 22: 1B Beau Mills traded from AAA Columbus to Cincinnati organization for cash considerations
June 22: 1B Jeremie Tice promoted to AA Akron from High-A Carolina (per Tony Lastoria)
Jacob’s Updated Top 10 Prospects for 2012
Last week, I created my new top 10 prospects ranking that I’ll use for the rest for the season. Want a more detailed explanation? Check out this link back to that post.
1. SS Francisco Lindor - The Tribe’s top prospect is getting back on track again. His numbers over his final nine games before Tuesday’s All-Star Game: .400/.609/.500, aided by an unreal six-walk performance on June 14. Then, in the Midwest League summer showdown, the 18-year-old Puerto Rican went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI as the East destroyed the West 18-2. His line is now .285/.369/.410 for the season in 60 games. Lindor also recently was named as one of two Indians representatives for the upcoming MLB Sirius XM Futures Game during All-Star Week in Kansas City.
2. RHP Dillon Howard – Tony Lastoria delivered some bad updates for Howard in his latest Minor Happenings at Indians Prospect Insider (subscription required). Lastoria reports that Howard – who delivered a disappointing performance in his professional debut Wednesday with rookie-level Arizona – had a knee injury in spring training and possibly was out of shape as well. He turns 20 this week since he was a high school pick from Arkansas last year, so there still remains plenty of upside, but Howard’s a project.
3. OF Tyler Naquin – I’ve been reading lots of glowing reviews of Naquin’s early play (although just one game so far) with Short-Season Mahoning Valley. Cleveland’s recent first-round pick from Texas A&M is an energetic centerfielder who will be slowly transitioned to full-time play with the Scrappers. In only one game out of four, he batted 3-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. His ceiling isn’t that high and he’s already 21, but these next 6-10 months are crucial for his future progression (just ask Howard).
4. RHP Mitch Brown – Early reports are saying that Brown, Cleveland’s 2012 second-round pick from a Minnesota high school, will begin his season shortly with Arizona. It will be interesting to see how he does there next to Howard, as the 18-year-old Brown’s a bit shorter, but still has a great frame and projects well as a solid future starter. Hopefully he can utilize a solid performance out in Goodyear to a good placement with the Captains next season.
5. OF Luigi Rodriguez – Maybe I’m a bit too optimistic about this 19-year-old Captains centerfielder, who knows. Either way, there are certainly some solid positives and discouraging negatives. In 60 games, he’s batting .276/.329/.398 with 11 doubles, 24 RBI and 12 steals. However, he also has a 21/70 BB/K ratio and the switch-hitter is batting just .212/.222/.327 in 52 at-bats against lefties. He had a hot April this year, but has cooled down a bit since then, especially in steals (five in last 40 games, zero in June).
6. LHP Elvis Araujo – And make that a second straight bad start for this big, tall, projectable Venezuelan lefty. He has allowed 12 runs (all earned) on 10 hits and 5 walks, with just one strikeout, in his last two outings spanning just 5.0 IP. Before that, he had a 3.02 ERA with 50/22 K/BB ratio in 12 starts, while averaging about five innings per start. These have been his worst two games of the season, so maybe the soon-to-be 21-year-old is just starting to get tired in his first full campaign with the Captains.
7. 2B/SS Tony Wolters – A nightmarish 2012 reaches the halfway point for Wolters. In 61 games for High-A Carolina, he’s batting .232/.303/.342 with 15 doubles and 27 RBI. He has been successful stealing just 4/8 times and has 12 errors, and those two points were supposed to be the 20-year-old’s greatest skills. I wouldn’t be too shocked if the middle infielder remains with the Mudcats next season, even though he’d look great in an Aeros uniform soon.
8. 1B Jesus Aguilar – Color me continuously confused on the 21-year-old Aguilar’s eventual ceiling. His numbers this year with the Mudcats (.303/.386/.487 in 66 games) are shockingly similar to the ones he put up in 2010 for A Lake County, after he regressed last season upon his promotion to High-A. But I’m not sure what to make of his .363 BABIP before the All-Star Break (he had a .350 in ’10 and .282 last year). He’s still the best, youngest power prospect in the system, and will be joining Lindor at the Futures Game next month.
9. RP Jake Sisco – Similar to Howard, I had been receiving many questions about Sisco when the season began. Turns out, he began the year with the Scrappers after some early time in extended spring training. In his 2012 debut (he also pitched last season for Arizona), the 20-year-old 2011 third-rounder allowed two runs on five hits and three walks in 3.2 IP. He got the loss in the ball game, marking a not so great start to his NY-Penn League career. Again, this is a crucial stretch for Sisco to show his promise as one of the bigger and better pitching prospects in the system.
10. RHP Chen Lee – Last week, I decided to include Lee in the rankings, despite excluding guys like RHP Austin Adams and OF Levon Washington because of their likely season-ending injuries. Lee, a 25-year-old AAA Columbus reliever from Taiwan, is rumored to return soon from the disabled list, where he has been for over two months now. When healthy, he’s been a dynamite reliever, and could be a great addition to Cleveland whenever needed. In that light, he might also be good trade bait once he gets back to the diamond.
As I’ve been doing for years, The Boots are my way to assign Boot Up or Boot Downs to various items in the sports world. I’ll be doing it in my Wednesday Wahoos columns as well, summarizing some of the top stories in brief positives and negatives. For all those who forgot my original motivation, I got the nickname “Boot” from my older brothers when I was young, and thus, I continue to use this segment as my personal sports writing payback.
Boot Up: Shining Star – Tell me if this sounds familiar. A young, right-handed reliever shoots through the minor leagues all the way to Columbus in his first full professional season. A hard-thrower who racks up the K’s, this prospect is rumored to possibly be in Cleveland by the end of the season if he can get added to the roster, and has played his way to being a bonafide prospect.
Well, if you follow the Indians minor leagues frequently, that could sound like the 2010 season for RHP Bryce Stowell. Or now, it would be the 2012 edition of RHP Cody Allen. The 23-year-old High Point University product was drafted in the 23rd round last season, and always has been a reliever. Thus, he’s not the traditional pitching prospect off the bat. But his combined numbers this year stand tall: 2-2, 2.12 ERA, 23 games, 34.0 IP, 21 H, 7 BB and 44 K’s.
When drafted, it was discussed how this athlete with a 3/4 slot and a couple plus pitches had just returned from Tommy John surgery. Maybe he was a golden ticket that late in the draft, in the same way the Indians have discovered LHP Tony Sipp and others over the years. But Allen’s now in Columbus, and if he keeps this up, might be making his way up north sometime soon.
Boot Down: Zany Zeke – It’s always easy to write glowingly of impressive seasons by young players, but not as easy to hit it where it hurts. And that’s just about necessary in describing the 2012 season for OF Ezequiel Carrera. In 62 games for the Clippers, he’s batting just .263/.309/.367 with 9/14 steals, 21 RBI and eight doubles. Not overly impressive for a guy who first made it to AAA in 2010, is 25 years old and played 68 games for the Tribe last season.
Because of the outfield depth in Columbus and Akron (more on this later), Carrera needed to have a huge season to stay relevant in the organization. He had the opportunity in March to shine through and win a roster spot, but lost to the lowly likes of Damon, Cunningham and OF Shelley Duncan. Kind of like OF Trevor Crowe last year, Carrera seems to be out of a long-term spot in the organization’s plans. He needed to play well, and just hasn’t been consistent in a while.
Boot Up: Big Red – It wasn’t that long ago when I discussed the DFA of one of my all-time favorite prospects OF Nick Weglarz. A big, burly Canadian outfielder who was the Indians third-rounder in 2005, he was the best power prospect in the system a couple years back. But that was before back-to-back years of bad injuries, and inconsistent numbers for AA Akron. Now, however, after being off the roster from May 13-19 because of the DFA move, he might be getting his groove back.
Since returning, he’s batting .289/.414/.622 in 28 games, with nine doubles, seven homers and 18 RBI. His impressive slugging percentage ranks fifth among qualified AA hitters since May 21. Sure, we’ve seen a couple stretches like this before, including one in early 2010, but Weglarz’s problem has been avoiding injuries and finding consistency. If he can do that, there’s no reason why he could move up to the Clippers as a corner outfielder/DH target at some point this season.
Boot Down: They’re Back – This last week saw the return of OF Jordan Henry and OF Bo Greenwell to the Indians minor leagues after offseason knee surgery. Henry, a speedy 24-year-old from Ole Miss, immediately returned to Akron where he played 193 games in 2010-11. Greenwell, a 23-year-old drafted out of a Florida high school in 2007, moved over to Carolina as he has yet to reach AA previously.
Both guys aren’t that much of prospects anymore, but are solid organizational pieces with some potential to maybe be fourth outfielders down the road. Either way, it just keeps adding to the ridiculous outfield depth from Columbus through Carolina. Here is just a small sampling of names: Carrera, Crowe, OF Tim Fedroff, OF Jared Goedert, OF Chad Huffman, OF Matt LaPorta and red-hot OF Russ Canzler. For those who are wondering, all those names are just the active Clippers guys. I didn’t want to even keep going.
Yes, it’d be nice if one of these guys could emerge as a solid replacement for Damon or Cunningham, instead of making a deal. More likely, however, is that one could be included in such a trade while a couple others are released by the start of next season. Younger players need to be able to keep moving up in the system, and we can’t keep around too many retreads forever.
Speaking of releases, I just saw this sad news yesterday in the aftermath of the Heat loss: 1B Beau Mills was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for cash considerations. Mills, a highly touted community college prospect who was drafted with the 13th pick in 2007, never quite developed to be the star hitter the Indians expected. He was batting .197/.239/.394 in 39 games this season for the Clippers, where I already mentioned the crowded roster of familiar names.
Back in Akron, where I worked in the media relations department from 2008-2010, Mills wasn’t one of the nicest guys to me in the clubhouse. There were some real nice ones in there, such as C Carlos Santana, RHP Jeanmar Gomez and Weglarz, but Mills was the exact opposite. Him and since-departed OF Jerad Head would always team up together to cause some type of small trouble, such as some pranks or just always making jokes.
Mills was the million-dollar first-rounder who a lot of people gave up on by 2009. He had one solid season with High-A Kinston the year before, but never was able to put up solid offensive numbers for Akron or Columbus. His dad Brad is a coach (currently managing the Houston Astros, this weekend’s opponent), so you’d expect him to get back up on his feet at some point, so maybe the change of scenery will help him in the long-run.
No matter what, it’s always sad to see someone you know traded away just like that. This doesn’t have the immediate potential to be a Brandon Phillips-type deal, as Mills had plenty of opportunities to just fight for a Cleveland job. But I wouldn’t be surprised still if he makes his way to Cincinnati eventually, providing some solid defense and an potentially average bat behind Joey Votto. And even though he wasn’t that great to me personally, I’ll still be cheering for him to succeed.
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.