August 26, 2014

WFNY Wednesday Wahoos: Indians Minor League Weekly Review 6/13

Every Wednesday, I provide tons of updates from the Indians minor league system. Today’s a special edition with a new top 10 ranking and some special insight on the MLB Draft. Enjoy.

For now this season, I hope you all have enjoyed my six or seven editions of the WFNY Wednesday Wahoos. They’ve been a great deal of fun to write each week, and I’m looking forward to continuing it for the rest of the season. Today’s post is a bit of a special one, as with the middle of the minor league season approaching quickly, I decided to expand a bit with some new features.

Following the usual standings and notable transactions updates, I will then unveil my top 10 updated prospects for 2012. This disregards players promoted recently or injured for a significant amount of time, giving a feel for which players to watch out for in the minors the rest of the way. I had been using Baseball America’s preseason ranking earlier in the year, but now that I feel more comfortable with the organization, and after the draft, I’ll be using my own ranking from here on out.

Then, about the draft specifically, I brought in Tony Lastoria from Indians Prospect Insider to answer a series of questions concerning how the Indians performed. I wrote quite a bit about the draft in last week’s day 2 recap and in the Wahoos, but this week’s insight should be a lot of fun for everyone to read.

To tie both items together (the new rankings and the draft analysis), I’ll talk briefly now about the state of the organization. Before the year began, the Indians system was ranked No. 29 by ESPN’s Keith Law (insider), No. 24 by Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein and No. 27 by Minor League Ball’s John Sickels. These were shockingly low ratings compared to the past few years, but unsurprising to many that have followed Cleveland’s prospects lately.

Of course, last year, the two top pitchers in the system (RHP Alex White and LHP Drew Pomeranz) were traded to Colorado for RHP Ubaldo Jimenez. Usually forgotten, there were two other prospects in that deal too: OF Matt McBride, a decent AA hitter, and RHP Joe Gardner, the team’s 3rd round pick in 2009.

That trade drained a ton of talent from the system, and so did the relatively recent promotions of guys like LHP Tony Sipp, C Carlos Santana, RHP Jeanmar Gomez, CF Michael Brantley, 2B Jason Kipnis, LHP Nick Hagadone, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall and LHP Scott Barnes.

So I did a quick experiment to see how the talent truly has disappeared. My plan was to analyze Tony Lastoria’s top 30 ranking of the system back in 2010. Here is the distribution of those players: 9 are in Cleveland, 8 remain playing somewhere in the organization, 4 are currently battling serious injuries and 9 are gone.

Unfortunately, I’ve never done this kind of analysis before, so I don’t know how abnormal those crooked numbers appear. But I think this still clearly shows the lack of star talent, the lack of depth and the disheartening turnover that led to the poor preseason rankings. This goal of this year’s draft then was to pump talent back into the system, so my updated ranking also will show how things are looking right now.

 

Standings

AAA Columbus Clippers: 30-35 (.462), 2/4 place, 8.0 GB in International League West

AA Akron Aeros: 39-20 (.661), 1/6 place, 7.5 game lead in Eastern League West

High-A Carolina Mudcats: 30-35 (.462), 4/4 place, 10.0 GB in Carolina League South

A Lake County Captains: 30-34 (.469), 7/8 place, 14.0 GB in Midwest League East

Short-Season Mahoning Valley: (no record, season begins June 18)


Notable Transactions

June 6: C Luke Carlin optioned to AAA Columbus from Cleveland

June 6: RHP Chris Schwinden claimed off waivers from Toronto, assigned to AAA Columbus

June 6: OF Bryson Myles activated off A Lake County’s disabled list

June 7: OF Tim Fedroff promoted to AAA Columbus from AA Akron

June 7: OF Thomas Neal activated off AA Akron’s disabled list

June 10: 1B Beau Mills placed on AAA Columbus’ 7-day disabled list

June 11: OF Trevor Crowe promoted to AAA Columbus from AA Akron

June 12: C Luke Carlin designated for assignment from AAA Columbus

June 12: RHP Esmil Rogers acquired from Colorado for cash considerations


Jacob’s Updated Top 10 Prospects for 2012

We’re nearing the halfway point in the minor league season, and since the MLB Draft just took place as well, I thought this would be a great time to unveil a new top 10 ranking. I began my ranking here by taking into consideration some of the many preseason prospect rankings, notably from Indians Prospect Insider, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and Minor League Ball.

Then, I factor in the recent draft and statistics from the season so far, while excluding players out for most of the rest of the year (notably, RHP Austin Adams and OF Levon Washington). Also, players who have logged significant time in Cleveland (such as LHP Nick Hagadone, RHP Zach McAllister and LHP Scott Barnes) are no longer included. I’ll be using these rankings the rest of the way this year. Enjoy.

1. SS Francisco Lindor (Preseason ranks: 1, 1, 1, 1)

Lindor hasn’t done anything to change the hype this season. There’s no doubt he is the shortstop of the future in the Cleveland organization, with a hopeful arrival in Cleveland in late 2014 or sometime in 2015. Yes, that means he could eventually replace SS Asdrubal Cabrera, but don’t get too carried away just yet. Lindor’s biggest strengths are his speed, glove and his plus-bat, especially for contact, so he’s a star in the making at just 18-years-old.

Quick bio: 11/14/1993, 5’11”, 175 lb, 1st round in 2011 MLB Draft, Puerto Rico
2012 stats: .278/.345/.397, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 14 SB in 56 games for A Lake County

2. RHP Dillon Howard (Preseason ranks: 3, 2, 2, 2)

Howard has yet to pitch in the system as he remains in extended spring training this year. But there was a ton of hype surrounding his selection last year. He’s got a mid-90s fastball, a slider and some other breaking pitches that likely are the focus of his continued development work. The upside leads toward potentially being a No. 2 starter, but there’s just a bit of risk right now as he approaches his 20th birthday.

Quick bio: 7/1/1992, 6’4”, 210 lb, 2nd round in 2011 MLB Draft, Arkansas HS

3. OF Tyler Naquin (2012 draftee)

Personally, I didn’t think Naquin would crack the top four until re-reading Keith Law’s post about recent draft picks fit in organizational rankings. There, Law (insider) placed Naquin second, only behind Lindor. Yes, the Indians system is pretty bad still, but I’m not a big believer in Naquin’s overall upside. He can hit well for contact (and maybe eventually for power), has decent speed and a great arm, but I don’t think there’s any talk of him being a potential All-Star. He should still be a decent MLB contributor, as early as late 2014.

Quick bio: 4/24/1991, 6’2”, 175 lb, 1st round in 2012 MLB Draft, Texas A&M

4. RHP Mitch Brown (2012 draftee)

Looking at the recently complete draft, however, I am a big fan of Brown. He was a first-round talent that dropped into the Indians’ lap in the second round. He’s not tall, but he has a big frame aided by the fact his dad is a Korean power lifter. Not too many people knew about this hard-throwing Minnesotan before last year, but his slider also is great and he has a lot of upside. He could project to be a No. 2/3 starter down the road, but his development might take a while.

Quick bio: 4/13/1994, 6’1”, 195 lb, 2nd round in 2012 MLB Draft, Minnesota HS

5. OF Luigi Rodriguez (Preseason ranks: 7, 11, 8, 5)

Rodriguez has always been a very potential-laden prospect ever since he signed into the system. This year, he’s actually putting up quite similar numbers to Lindor with the Captains to warrant remaining this high. He’s got great speed and raw power/fielding ability, but there was just so little known about him coming into the system. Again, he’s quite young but has a high ceiling, and thus, should just be a bit behind Lindor’s fast track to Cleveland.

Quick bio: 11/13/1992, 5’11”, 160 lb, signed in September 2009, Dominican Republic
2012 stats: .284/.339/.393, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 12 SB in 55 games for A Lake County

6. Elvis Araujo (Preseason ranks: 11, 13, 11, 7)

Araujo is yet another high-ceiling, high-potential, unknown Latin prospect that appeared fairly high in some rankings last offseason. He’s proved them well in 2012, with solid strikeout numbers as a fairly consistent starter for the Captains. He’s big, projectable and has a good fastball/slider combination, but the biggest worry before was his health/durability following recent Tommy John surgery. The early results are promising, so keep him on the radar.

Quick bio: 7/15/1991, 6’6”, 215 lb, signed in July 2007, Venezuela
2012 stats: 2-5, 3.88 ERA in 13 starts, 60.1 IP, 63 H, 25 BB, 51 K for A Lake County

7. SS Tony Wolters (Avg preseason rank: 5, 9, 5, 3)

Personally, I thought coming into the season that some of Wolters’ rankings were a bit too high. He’s playing poorly this year so far in the Carolina League, adding credence to my skepticism. He is listed as a solid contact hitter with good running ability, but really hasn’t proven much in 2012. I don’t think his ceiling remains very high, and with Cabrera/Lindor at SS and Kipnis at 2B for the indefinite future, I wouldn’t be surprised if his indefinite ceiling remains Columbus.

Quick bio: 6/9/1992, 5’10”, 165 lb, 3rd round in 2010 MLB Draft, California HS
2012 stats: .230/.301/.332, 1 HR, 25 RBI, 4 SB in 56 games for High-A Carolina

8. 1B Jesus Aguilar (Preseason rank: 14, 14, 18, 21)

The biggest problem in the Indians system ever since OF Nick Weglarz got bit by the injury bug is power potential. Thus, Aguilar’s got the best young power potential in the organization, even though he only has five homers this year. He turns 22 later this week, and the big question entering this season was what he could do besides just mash the ball. The on-base percentage looks encouraging in Carolina as he at least has 25 walks (despite 55 strikeouts), but his defense remains a liability.

Quick bio: 6/30/1990, 6’3”, 255 lb, signed in November 2007, Venezuela
2012 stats: .288/.374/.449, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 14 2B in 60 games for High-A Carolina

9. RP Jake Sisco (Preseason ranks: 18, 6, 12, 4)

Last year’s MLB Draft was undoubtedly stronger, which is why many people were so high on Sisco entering last season. The raw talent pitched in 12 games last season with the Arizona Rookie League (posting a 5.24 ERA and 31 K’s compared to 17 BB’s in 34.1 IP), but has been in extended spring training like Howard in 2012. He’s got an encouraging sinking fastball plus a big frame, but really wasn’t a prospect before a strong junior college season. He still needs some work.

Quick bio: 12/9/1991, 6’3”, 185 lb, 3rd round in 2011 MLB Draft, California Juco

10. RHP Chen Lee (Preseason ranks: 6, 7, 16, 12)

I’ve excluded Adams and Washington from this list because of their likely season-long injuries, but Lee is expected back for the Clippers in the next couple weeks. He’s been a dominant reliever in the minors ever since he joined the system, just look at the stats: in AAA, 2.33 ERA in 38.2 IP with 51 K’s and 13 BB’s; in AA, 2.96 ERA in 112.1 IP with 138 K’s and 33 BB’s. He’s a likely late 2012 promotion candidate and should be a great bullpen guy for the future.

Quick bio: 10/21/1986, 5’11, 190 lb, signed in September 2008, Taiwan
2012 stats: 2-0, 2.57 ERA in 5 games, 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 8 K for AAA Columbus

Some quick honorable mentions in an approximate order, with ages listed:

SS Ronny Rodriguez (20, much-hyped prospect has been mediocre at plate, awful in field);
RHP Felix Sterling
(19, big, projectable starter has had command issues with Captains this year);
LHP T.J. McFarland (23, not a prospect before season, but has worked way quickly to Clippers);
RHP Kieran Lovegrove (17, big California HS star was a steal in 3rd round of ’12 draft);
1B/DH Chun Chen (23, was converted away from catcher this year, but he’s raking it in Akron);
2B Robel Garcia (19, intriguing Latin prospect, but struggling like Rodriguez in Lake County);
LHP Giovanni Soto (21, a consistent 2012 starter for Akron, has good strikeout numbers);
LHP T.J. House (22, former prospect earned promotion to Akron, has kept up strong numbers);
OF Tyler Holt (23, has no power, but keeps providing good contact and speed for Mudcats)
RHP Cody Allen (23, reliever has bounced around system, but has 41 K’s in 30.1 IP with 2.37 ERA).

 

Tony Lastoria on the 2012 MLB Draft

As many of my readers know, I’m a huge fan of Tony Lastoria’s work over at Indians Prospect Insider. Tony makes his way to see a tremendous amount of games each year and his site keeps on getting better. In order to gauge some of his insight, I reached out to him for some thoughts on the recently completed draft. Again, I strongly encourage you to bookmark his site, and huge thanks to Tony for responding back with these answers.

Jacob: Let’s talk about strategy. Do you think the Indians picked Tyler Naquin at No. 15 to be a bit riskier with their 2-10 picks? Why or why not?

Tony: While they will never admit to it, yes, I think in some way the Indians took Naquin at No. 15 in order to give them more flexibility the rest of the draft. Not to sell Naquin short, as they like him a ton, but this was a very weak draft at the top and lacked depth the rest of the way, so the Indians did not really pass up on much by overdrafting Naquin. With Naquin they get a player that has two plus-plus tools in his arm and bat, and they get at least two average tools with his speed and defense. While he lacks much power (they feel some may still come), they got a good player that fits today’s game that is dominated by defense, getting on-base, and consistently putting the bat on the ball. On top of that, they should be able to save a few hundred thousand dollars on him as his signing bonus should be under the $2.25M slot for their pick in the first round. It is of no coincidence the Indians selected five high school players and one high profile Juco player six of their next seven picks after they selected Naquin, and the money they are expected to save on Naquin should allow them to sign most if not all of them.

 

Jacob: What was your favorite value-based pick in the draft for the Indians? Least favorite?

Tony: This is a toss-up for me as I love the pickup of the two right-handed hitting high school outfield bats in the first seven rounds with D’Vone McClure in the 4th round and Josh Schubert in the 7th round. Both players are long projections and they have so long to go in their development, but their now tools are impressive and should definitely complement the organization well. McClure is a tremendous raw athlete with unlimited potential, and most intriguing about him is his outstanding bat speed and projectable power to go along with the ability to stay in center field. Schubert is not as athletic as McClure, but he has more power with impressive size at 6’4” 215 pounds at 18 years of age and also has a good arm.

As far as a least favorite pick goes, I do not really have one.  Sure, I’d have preferred to pass on the two seniors Jacob Lee and Josh Martin in the 9th and 10th round respectively, and even Joe Wendle as well in the 6th round, but I think these three players were drafted where they were not just because the Indians like them but because they could also sign them for underslot to give them more money to dangle in front of the high upside guys in the first ten rounds and even in rounds 11-40.

 

Jacob: How many out of the 40 players do you think we’ll sign? What’s the best-case scenario?

Tony: When the draft was 50 rounds the last several years, the Indians typically signed 20-30 of their picks, so anywhere from 40-60%. That is a pretty wide range. While there will likely be more undrafted free agent signings this year, I’d expect the Indians to sign around 21-23 of their draft selections. Best case would probably be 24 of them (60%).

 

Jacob: Who will be the toughest player to sign? Why?

Tony: This is a tough draft to gauge this season as at the moment there do not appear to be any high upside tough sign players like last year with lefties Stephen Tarpley (7thround) and Dillon Peters (20th round). Of course, this is a much weaker draft and the players do not have as much leverage as they used to since teams are more or less capped by what they can spend. I think all of their top ten picks sign this year, so when looking for a tough sign you have to look into the later rounds, and to me that is 26th round pick right-handed pitcher Justin Garza. He is a near impossible sign as he has a strong commitment to Cal-State Fullerton and it is probably going to take at least $250K for him to sign, if not double that. Since teams can’t spend more than $100K on picks past the first ten rounds unless they want to risk severe penalties, and there probably would be little leftover from the draft bonus pool in the first ten rounds, I’d put it as extremely low he signs.

 

Jacob: Which player has the best upside? Why? 

Tony: I think you could throw any of the five high school players from the first ten rounds into a hat and just randomly pick on this one.  With 2nd round pick right-handed pitcher Mitchell Brown, 3rd round pick right-handed pitcher Kieran Lovegrove, 8th round pick right-handed pitcher Caleb Hamrick, McClure and Schubert, they all have considerable upside, but lots of risk as well. If I had to pick just one, I would have to say McClure. I just love all the tools, athleticism, and upside, and on top of that he is a former all-state wide receiver. Playing football usually has no bearing on any future success in baseball, but I can envision him going back and attacking fly balls in center field much like a wide receiver.

 

Jacob: Which player projects to be in Cleveland the fastest? Why?

Tony: It has to be Naquin as the Indians did not draft a lot of “now” players. Most of the players they drafted and eventually sign will have long projections and need a lot of development in order to successfully tap into their future abilities and make them into Major League players. They did draft a few college juniors and seniors, but outside of Naquin, no one else has much upside at the moment to be a big leaguer in two to three years like Naquin.

 

Jacob: I know it’s tough to give grades to MLB drafts. But, what is your evaluation of how you think the Indians did? Did they exceed your expectations?

Tony: I think the Indians definitely exceeded my expectations. With the new draft setup with the draft bonus pool and the limitations that come with it, I expected the Indians to be conservative with the draft, especially in the first year under the new rules. But they actually did just the opposite as they loaded up on so much upside, that I think they even surprised themselves. When you load up on college players you get a very low ceiling but high floor collection of talent, but with a lot of high school talent and young Juco players you get unlimited ceiling but a very low floor which creates a boom or bust situation with so many draft picks. While there is risk going for such upside, I think the Indians need to take the risk as the draft is one of the only ways they can add future star talent into the organization. Hopefully some of the players they took in the draft pan out and end up as stars in three to four years. With all that in mind, I’d give them a solid B+ for the draft, though feel we will be able to more accurately grade it in three to four years when a lot of these high school players have either reached the big leagues, the upper levels of the minors, or have washed out of the system.

 

Again, thank you to Tony Lastoria at Indians Prospect Insider for helping out with these responses!