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

wednesday wahoo

Every Wednesday, I bring you all the highlights from the week that was for the Cleveland Indians organization, along with some added insight on what it means for the major league squad.

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve seen quite the flurry of roster moves by the MLB team. Following injuries to RHP Josh Tomlin, C Carlos Santana, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, DH Travis Hafner and even a brutal HBP suffered by C Lou Marson, we’ve had a bit of revolving door with AAA Columbus lately.

But, for now, it seems things are mostly back to normal, as all but Hafner among the players above have returned to action. Which means it’s time to remember the other folks still on the mend or returning soon: OF Johnny Damon (paternity leave), 3B Jack Hannahan (calf/back), LHP Rafael Perez (strained left lat muscle) and, of course, OF Grady Sizemore (back).

Hafner’s May 31 surgery will keep him out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks. Damon was only permitted to be gone for three games, so he’ll be returning today after news broke of his leave on Sunday. Hannahan’s injury was much critiqued (including by Tony Lastoria) because he had a bad back, came back, played one game, then went on the DL retroactive to May 28 in favor of 3B Lonnie Chisenhall with a strained calf. Perez has been on the DL since April 27, and is now on the 60-day, which means he can’t return for another three weeks. Finally, Sizemore’s eventual return is unknown as he learned in this depressing Anthony Castrovince story, but I’d look toward the All-Star Break or later for him.

My guess is that today, we’ll see Damon return and C Luke Carlin, who came up when Marson got hit and Santana was already hurt, go back to AAA Columbus. From there, Hannahan is next up to return on June 12, then Perez two weeks later and Hafner shortly after that.

Thus, the biggest question mark is what the Indians plan on doing when Hannahan can return next Tuesday. Will Chisenhall go back to the Clippers? Will Hannahan be moved elsewhere? These are just some of the many roster questions that should be answered by the next Wahoos.

 

Standings

AAA Columbus Clippers: 27-31 (.466), 3/4 place, 7.0 GB in International League West

AA Akron Aeros: 34-20 (.630), 1/6 place, 4.5 game lead in Eastern League West

High-A Carolina Mudcats: 26-31 (.456), 4/4 place, 8.0 GB in Carolina League South

A Lake County Captains: 28-29 (.491), 3/8 place, 12.0 GB in Midwest League East

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


Top 10 Prospects

1. SS Francisco Lindor – Not a great couple of weeks for the top prospect in the organization. After his sixth straight two-hit game (!) on May 17, he was at .327/.372/.490 on the year. Since then, in 15 games, he is just hitting .143/.206/.190. The strikeouts are adding up (35 vs. 13 walks), but oh yeah, remember, he’s only 18.

2. RHP Dillon Howard – I mentioned a Paul Hoynes update on Howard last Sunday in my Indians notes. Again today, Indians.com confirms he is pitching in extended spring training in Arizona. After the draft the last two days, I’m more anxious than ever to see what this Arkansas high school star can do in the minors.

3. LHP Nick Hagadone – We saw it again last night when Hagadone replaced Ubaldo Jimenez in the seven inning: This burly lefty is quickly becoming one of the Tribe’s most reliable relievers. In 19 games spanning 18.2 IP, he has a 2.89 ERA, .179 batting average against and 18 strikeouts against seven walks. His outing Sunday was the worst of his career, and the 26-year-old’s stats still are outstanding.

4. RHP Chen Lee – Doing some research, it appears that Lee was shut down for six weeks back in early May, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The Taiwanese reliever went on the DL on April 23. He’s been one of the system’s best relievers since he signed in September 2008, so hopefully he can return to throwing and then to the team in the next couple weeks.

5. OF Luigi Rodriguez – Similar to Lindor, this 19-year-old Dominican speedster had a sensational start to the year for A Lake County, but has cooled off tremendously since. Through 20 April games, he was batting .349/.402/.542 with seven steals and 13 RBI. In 28 May and June games, he’s batting just .216/.278/.241 with only five steals and five RBI.

6. RHP Zach McAllister – Honestly, the 24-year-old McAllister shouldn’t be back in AAA Columbus. He was great in his four Cleveland starts, and had to go back when RHP Josh Tomlin returned. He walked a season-high five on Sunday though against Rochester, lasting just 4.1 IP because he hit 93 pitches (55 strikes). Fortunately, he gave up just one run, and he now has a 2.84 ERA in 44.1 IP for the Clippers.

7. SS Tony Wolters – Wolters is a streaky kind of guy, eh? He started the season on a 5-for-54 (.093) stretch for High-A Carolina and now is caught in a 3-for-24 (.125) stretch. In between, he batted .301 (34-for-113). He turns 20 on Saturday, and it might be a big drop in his BABIP (.271 from .353 last season) accounting for his surprisingly poor average.

 8. RHP Austin Adams – He underwent surgery on his right shoulder two weeks ago, and likely will be out for the remainder of the season. The 2009 fifth-rounder turns 26 in August, so this definitely hurts his standing as any type of prospect for the long-term. He had a big season for AA Akron last year (11-10 with a 3.77 ERA in 26 starts), but will need to get hot quick in 2013.

9. LHP Scott Barnes – I discussed Barnes’ staying power with the team early on and he’s been just fine so far in Cleveland. He has worked two scoreless innings, most recently the top of the ninth inning in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota. He is the third lefty in the pen behind Hagadone and LHP Tony Sipp so the 24-year-old St. John’s product might not get a whole ton of work over the coming weeks.

Wild Card: OF Tyler Naquin – Yup, I had to do it. Naquin, the Indians first-round pick from Monday, should rank somewhere between No. 7-12 in new rankings for the 2013 season. He’s not projected as an MVP talent, but the David DeJesus comparisons still are positive for the “tweener” 21-year-old. Naquin also gets this honor for making a sick throw against my alma mater Dayton in their NCAA game Friday. I couldn’t find video, but here’s a quote of him commenting on throwing out a guy at first on a grounder to right field.

 

Notable Transactions

May 30: LHP Scott Barnes recalled by MLB Cleveland from AAA Columbus

May 30: RHP Trey Haley placed on High-A Carolina’s 7-day disabled list

May 31: LF Thomas Neal (right hamstring pull) placed on AA Akron’s 7-day disabled list

June 3: 1B Matt LaPorta recalled by MLB Cleveland from AAA Columbus

June 4: LF Trevor Crowe assigned to AA Akron from AAA Columbus

June 5: SS Juan Diaz optioned to AA Akron from MLB Cleveland

 

The Boots

Boot Up: Home Boy – One of my favorite things about doing the Wahoos is how I get to learn all about the inside stories of some of the Indians’ minor leaguers. The latest one comes from High-A Carolina RHP Shawn Armstrong, who received a nice write-up in the Eastern Wake News over the weekend. The local product, who also went to East Carolina University, didn’t allow his first professional run until May 10 this year. The story also covers why he’s glad he signed with the Tribe in the 19th round last draft, before the new rule changes took place (which I discussed two hours ago).

For more on Armstrong, he’s a 21-year-old reliever who now has a 1.07 career MiLB ERA in 33.2 IP. He has allowed 16 hits and 16 walks, but has a very impressive 43 strikeouts. The big guy at 6-foot-2 has a solid fastball and a nice cutter, and it was likely he was going to be converted to reliever upon being drafted (more on that from Indians Prospect Insider). Overall though, he’s shined so far in the pros and likely we’ll be an intriguing guy starting next year, hopefully in AA Akron.

Boot Down: Back to AA – Speaking of those Aeros, I was shocked at the beginning of the year when OF Thomas Neal began the season in Akron. Neal, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 96 prospect in baseball before the 2010 season, played all of his 70 games last season in AAA, including his final 10 in Columbus. During those games, he produced a .289/.343/.391 line, and he also had a .291/.359/.440 line in 136 AA games in 2010. As a reminder, the Indians got him for 2B Orlando Cabrera near the deadline last year.

Most recently, however, Neal was placed on the disabled list with a right hamstring pull last week for the Aeros. At the moment, he was hitting .292 with no home runs and 13 RBI in 39 games this season. Not impressive numbers at all considering his track record and his return back to AA. The Indians DFA’d him before the season, and it was just a matter of too many outfielders in Columbus to make room for Neal. He’s still just 24 years old and has some decent hitting potential, so hopefully he can get back on track soon.

Boot Up: Central Woes – One of the things I love doing throughout the year is looking at the organizational minor league standings. While not perfectly accurate, the combined records of a system’s teams are usually a neat way to compare franchises’ depths. For the season, the New York Mets lead the race at .597 and the Baltimore Orioles are last at .421. Considering the fact Keith Law (insider) ranked the Mets No. 22 and the Orioles No. 17 to start the season, clearly there are some flaws with this comparison.

But, as a reminder, the Indians also ranked No. 29 in Law’s preseason rankings (at least above the No. 30 Chicago White Sox, though). And for now, the Indians rank tied for No. 14 in the record book at .515 on the season, led by AA Akron’s hot play. Looking at the Central Division, the rankings are nearly inverted: No. 7 Chicago at .532, No. 10 Kansas City at .530, No. 19 Minnesota at .496, No. 21 Detroit at .480. Overall, I’m at least marginally impressed the Indians are in the middle of the pack, but that could be a factor of a lot of their AAA and AAAA talent. For now, however, third place ain’t too awful in the division and hopefully we can catch up soon.

Boot Down: He’s Back – Remember this guy? OF Trevor Crowe was activated by the Aeros on Monday, returning to action from the AAA Columbus disabled list. He played 19 games earlier this season for the Clippers, doing pretty well with a .299/.368/.478 line, but then suffered a strained right oblique muscle and hadn’t played since May 1. As I mentioned earlier with the outfield depth in Columbus, there likely wasn’t much space for Crowe to return full-time to the Clippers, so to get him going, it appears the Indians decided to bring him back to Akron.

Of course, Akron has a lot of meaning in Crowe’s career. The 2005 first-round pick from Arizona shot up the minor league system quickly. He played 39 games for the Aeros in late 2006 and then was there all season in 133 games in 2007. During those stints, he struggled for the first time as a pro (despite being the No. 64 prospect in baseball pre-2007), leading to his middling 2009-2011 career with the Indians and a recent life as a AAAA-er. Now, Crowe is 28 years old and fighting for one last chance, although his chances are slim and he’s back where he first arrived six years ago.

 

Closing Word

Two hours ago, I shared tons of thoughts on the ongoing MLB Draft. The draft will go into hyper-speed today with the remaining 25 rounds, starting at round No. 16. While thinking about that earlier article, I started to do some research that just got ridiculous over time, so I decided to change gears with my focus. I’ll share some of that not-yet-published research here.

In the Indians drafts from 2003-2005, 15 signed players have eventually made the major leagues. Of those players, only one (Sipp, a 45th rounder) is still active on a MLB roster. Their combined WAR is 13.1 and they have clearly made zero All-star games. In terms of career WAR, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (5.7) is the leader, followed by 1B/OF Ryan Garko (2.5).

In the drafts from 1989-1991, 25 signed Cleveland players eventually made the major leagues. Of those players, one is on the MLB DL (1B/DH Jim Thome) and one will be coming back to the majors soon (OF/DH Manny Ramirez). The combined WAR of these 25 players is 251.9 with 20 All-Star games. Both Thome (67.4 WAR) and Ramirez (64.8) are likely Hall of Famers, while there were also other very productive picks in OF Brian Giles (48.4), 3B David Bell (12.7), RHP Paul Byrd (13.7) and a couple others much better than Kouzmanoff.

My point here is that in terms of drafts we can actually analyze (you’ve got to give it at least 4-5 years) the Indians were awful in recent history and tremendous much earlier. You want to get at least one regular starter in any draft to make it relatively successful, and the Indians had an awful three-year stretch there with virtually no consistent MLB talent.

Yes, things have changed in terms of the success and profiles of players drafted by the Indians since 2008 with Bud Grant, the team’s new director of college scouting. But it’s a bit too early to analyze these guys for now. All I can hope is that again in 2012, we can at least find one or two regulars that can help out the big league club. They don’t have to be Hall of Famers like Thome or Ramirez in that amazing drafting stretch, but better than Kouzmanoff is at least the goal.