August 26, 2014

The Diff: Update on top Cleveland Indians prospects

The Diff is your weekly Wednesday WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. Amazingly, this is already the 20th one I’ve written here at the site. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, The Diff looked deep into the stats of Nerlens Noel as the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. This week, it’s back to my roots: Cleveland Indians prospect talk.

The Diff

During most of the 2012 baseball season, I wrote a regular feature called the “WFNY Wednesday Wahoos“. Pre-The Diff, this was my weekly adventure into the stats and prospects world, where I could share updates and anecdotal ideas about the Cleveland Indians system. It’s been a long time since I did one of those, so as a special blast from the past, I’m dedicating this week’s The Diff to a similar construct as those old Wahoos. Hope you enjoy. All statistics below are current as of games played on Monday, June 3.

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Top 10 organizational prospects

For context on this aggregate ranking, visit my WFNY article from early March.

1. Francisco Lindor, A+ Carolina, SS, 11/14/93
Season stats: .299/.367/.417 in 54 games with 1 HR, 19 RBI, 23 BB, 27 K, 13 SB, 11 E
Recent stretch: .217/.302/.293 in 23 games with 0 HR, 6 RBI, 12 BB, 13 K, 5 SB, 7 E

The insanely young Lindor remains an excellent prospect: Recall that ESPN’s Keith Law had him at No. 7 overall pre-2013. But I worry Lindor’s overall upside is limited. He’s more like a slightly-better hitting, slightly-worse fielding Elvis Andrus prototype, not a Bryce Harper/Mike Trout instant-MVP candidate. But again, best-case scenario has him arriving in Cleveland in September 2014.

2. Trevor Bauer, AAA Columbus, RHP, 1/17/1991
Season stats: 2-2 record, 4.63 ERA, 8 starts, 46.2 IP, 41 H, 27 BB, 49 K
Recent stretch: 1-2 record, 6.95 ERA, 4 starts, 22.0 IP, 26 H, 17 BB, 18 K

Bauer has been about as described thus far: He struggles often with control and trying to be too perfect, as he said after one of his three Cleveland spot-starts. These last three starts for Columbus have been quite rough. Ideally, the still very young Bauer could stay with Columbus throughout their 2013 season, then return to the bigs full-time in ’14.

3. Dorssys Paulino, A Lake County, SS, 11/21/1994
Season stats: .228/.287/.287 in 47 games with 0 HR, 17 RBI, 14 BB, 33 K, 7 SB, 23 E
Recent stretch: .284/.319/.433 in 17 games with 0 HR, 11 RBI, 3 BB, 10 K, 5 SB, 11 E

The newcomer to the top of the rankings, Paulino got off to an incredibly slow start for the Captains. But he’s exactly one week younger than Lindor was in the Midwest League last season and now is heating up — yet the fielding has been ugly. The other question: Was his power last season (.558 slug in 58 games) a bit flukey? It appears so thus far.

4. Tyler Naquin, A+ Carolina, CF, 4/24/1991
Season stats: .317/.376/.478 in 54 games with 4 HR, 21 RBI, 18 BB, 54 K, 5 SB, 3 E
Recent stretch: .373/.434/.547 in 17 games with 1 HR, 6 RBI, 7 BB, 18 K, 0 SB, 2 E

I’ve repeatedly stated my apathy toward last year’s Naquin pick at No. 15. The Indians touted him as a fast-track player and I guess his recent hot streak means he could be in contention for a Cleveland spot by September ’14. But Naquin still seems more like a 10-homer and 30-double guy to me, at best. His high strikeouts also are worrisome.

5. Mitch Brown, A Lake County, RHP, 4/13/1994
Season stats: 1-1 record, 11.49 ERA, 5 starts, 15.2 IP, 21 H, 11 BB, 18 K

Brown was last year’s 2nd round pick. He appeared in just eight games last season in rookie ball and hasn’t pitched since May 1st this year. The good: Brown just recently turned 19 and has plenty of time on his hand. The bad: He’s going to have to start pitching eventually. Likely, the Indians are tinkering with his delivery quite a bit.

6. Tony Wolters, A+ Carolina, C/DH, 6/9/1992
Season stats: .238/.313/.321 in 23 games with 1 HR, 8 RBI, 10 BB, 21 K, 2 SB, 0 E

It was a big hubbub this offseason when the undersized, 2011 3rd-rounder Wolters — who posted a .311/.358/.514 55-game finish as a middle infielder last season for Carolina — was re-converted to catcher. Huh? The Indians lacked catching depth, they said. Wolters has been back-and-forth with playing time in 2013, likely still re-figuring out the kinks behind the plate.

7. Ronny Rodriguez, AA Akron, 2B/SS, 4/17/1992
Season stats: .260/.280/.397 in 53 games with 4 HR, 25 RBI, 5 BB, 33 K, 5 SB, 11 E
Recent stretch: .385/.407/.596 in 13 games with 2 HR, 11 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K, 0 SB, 4 E

Riddle me this: Why does the organization’s No. 7 prospect usually bat seventh or eighth in the Akron lineup? His rare walks might be one answer, but it’s still odd. Rodriguez had been scorching hot of late, but went 0-for-6 Tuesday in his first start in the two-hole. Watch to see if his slugging can keep ticking up, as it was .452 in Carolina last season.

8. Luigi Rodriguez, A+ Carolina, LF/CF, 11/13/1992
Season stats: .278/.364/.379 in 49 games with 1 HR, 19 RBI, 23 BB, 55 K, 7 SB, 2 E
Recent stretch .361/.477/.500 in 11 games with 0 HR, 5 RBI, 8 BB, 11 K, 1 SB, 0 E

The other Rodriguez had a better start to 2013, where he began again in Lake County until receiving the promotion at the end of April. He’s been even better in Carolina, but needs to cut down on the strikeouts. Rodriguez still has a lot of upside remaining, yet it’s also odd to see he’s been caught in 6/13 steal attempts thus far.

9. Danny Salazar, AAA Columbus, RHP, 1/11/1990
Season stats: 2-4 record, 10 starts, 2.51 ERA, 46.2 IP, 35 H, 16 BB, 64 K
Recent stretch: 0-1 record, 3 starts, 2.08 ERA, 13.0 IP, 8 H, 6 BB, 13 K

I wrote an extended article about Salazar’s prospect status last month. Notably since then, he was shut down for 13 days after making his first start in Columbus. Via the numbers above, you can tell how dominant his strikeout numbers were early in ’13 for Akron. Best-case scenario, he could be a relief option in September, or maybe he’d be shut down early.

10. Jose Ramirez, AA Akron, 2B, 9/17/1992
Season stats: .264/.329/.333 in 48 games with 2 HR, 15 RBI, 20 BB, 20 K, 19 SB, 8 E
Recent stretch: .307/.366/.413 in 17 games with 1 HR, 5 RBI, 7 BB, 6 K, 4 SB, 1 E

Ramirez jumped onto the scene last season with his super-sabemetric season — batting .354/.403/.462 for Lake County, then skipping High-A entirely. Ramirez got off to a slow offensive start, but was tearing up the base paths. He’s very undersized for a usual top-10 prospect. But his K/BB ratio remains very advanced for such a young player in Double-A.

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Assorted other pitcher prospects

T.J. House, AAA Columbus, LHP, 9/29/1989
Season stats: 3-5 record, 12 starts, 4.91 ERA, 69.2 IP, 74 H, 23 BB, 62 K
Recent stretch: 0-2 record, 3 starts, 6.50 ERA, 18.0 IP, 22 H, 8 BB, 13 K

House, who was added the the team’s 40-man roster this offseason, was a 16th-round pick in 2008. He received his first-ever promotion to Triple-A in late April after striking out 18 over his final 11.2 IP with the Aeros. He’s struggled recently, but as a lefty with some upside, he’s a guy to watch.

Austin Adams, AA Akron, RHP, 8/19/1986
Season stats: 0-1 record, 2 saves, 15 games, 3.54 ERA, 20.1 IP, 18 H, 22 BB, 32 K
Recent stretch: 0-1 record, 1 save, 6 games, 4.70 ERA, 7.2 IP, 9 H, 5 BB, 11 K

The team’s 5th-rounder in 2009 shot up prospect rankings after an awesome season in ’11 as a Double-A starter, then underwent Tommy John surgery. He’s since been converted to a reliever, where his dominant strikeout numbers can have more potential. But he turns 27 soon, so the prospect clock is ticking.

Enosil Tejeda, AA Akron, RHP, 6/21/1989
Season stats: 1-2 record, 2 saves, 18 games, 1.59 ERA, 22.2 IP, 13 H, 10 BB, 35 K
Recent stretch: 1-0 record, 1 save, 10 games, 0.00 ERA, 12.0 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 15 K

The Indians are chock-full of relief prospects and Tejeda has been the most impressive of the bunch in ’13. The Dominican received his first-ever promotion to Double-A in mid-May after an awesome start with Carolina. He began ’12 in short-season, so he’s still relatively inexperienced.

Jose Flores, AA Akron, RHP, 6/4/1989
Season stats: 4-1 record, 5 saves, 23 games, 1.65 ERA, 27.1 IP, 23 H, 8 BB, 34 K
Recent stretch: 1-1 record, 1 save, 6 games, 4.05 ERA, 6.2 IP, 10 H, 1 BB, 11 K

This big Venezuelan saved 15 games with a 2.37 ERA for Carolina last season before receiving the late call-up to Double-A. He had a rough 2011 in High-A, but now is re-establishing his standing as a solid, if just unspectacular, back-end option.

Cody Anderson, A+ Carolina, RHP, 9/14/1990
Season stats: 5-2 record, 11 starts, 2.56 ERA, 63.1 IP, 55 H, 15 BB, 57 K
Recent stretch: 2-1 record, 5 starts, 1.84 ERA, 29.1 IP, 24 H, 6 BB, 34 K

Anderson, Cleveland’s 14th-rounder in 2011, might finally be knocking on the door of legit prospect standing. He had a 3.20 ERA in 98.1 IP with Lake County last season too. Among the 470 minor leagues with 45.0 IP in 2013, his 3.80 K/BB ratio ranks T-68th. Very solid production again.

C.C. Lee, A Lake County, RHP, 10/21/1986
Season stats: 0-0 record, 0 games, 0.00 ERA, 2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 K

Lee was a top-10 prospect pre-2012, then underwent Tommy John surgery. He’s on the comeback trail but is slowly getting back with Single-A Lake County. The high-profiled Taiwanese reliever import had 189 K’s in 151.0 IP from 2010 through early 2012 for Akron/Columbus until his injury, which is why the Indians protected him on the 40-man.

Jake Sisco, A Lake County, RHP, 12/9/1991
Season stats: 2-4 record, 10 games (9 starts), 3.27 ERA, 52.1 IP, 44 H, 19 BB, 36 K
Recent stretch: 2-2 record, 4 starts, 4.38 ERA, 24.2 IP, 23 H, 9 BB, 22 K

Sisco is one of the many, many young but unproven pitching arms in the Indians system. He was a 3rd-round pick in 2011. He’s big and was projected to have a strikeout punch, yet is only starting to show it in his last four outings. He’s likely to stay all year with the Captains.

Two other high-end right-handed pitching prospects, Kieran Lovegrove and Dillon Howard, have yet to pitch in a game this season.

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Assorted other hitter prospects

Lonnie Chisenhall, AAA Columbus, 3B, 10/4/1988
Season stats: .275/.331/.481 in 42 games with 8 HR, 25 RBI, 9 BB, 36 K, 1 SB, 11 E
Recent stretch: .438/.509/.792 in 12 games with 4 HR, 12 RBI, 4 BB, 10 K, 0 SB, 6 E

Chisenhall has been as hot as possible in the last two weeks for the Clippers. Heck, he even homered Tuesday night with 4 RBI along with his first 3-walk game in almost two years (7/30/11 for Cleveland). This is exactly what the MLB team wanted out of him, although he’s only much worse versus lefties and the defensive problems are odd.

Chun Chen, AAA Columbus, 1B/DH, 11/1/1988
Season stats: .304/.388/.500 in 53 games with 8 HR, 34 RBI, 26 BB, 59 K, 8 SB, 2 E
Recent stretch: .158/.220/.263 in 11 games with 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 14 K, 0 SB, 1 E

Might Chen be re-playing himself into prospect consideration? I’d still lean toward no, especially with the evidence of his last two weeks and his K numbers. The Taiwanese slugger somehow stole 8 bases quickly for Akron and received the call-up in mid-May. The former catcher is still kind of position-less.

Jesus Aguilar, AA Akron, 1B, 6/30/1990
Season stats: .247/.323/.374 in 51 games with 6 HR, 41 RBI, 23 BB, 45 K, 0 SB, 10 E
Recent stretch: .226/.297/.368 in 34 games with 5 HR, 19 RBI, 14 BB, 28 K, 0 SB, 4 E

Remember when Aguilar was the best slugging prospect in the Indians system? He might only be considered that by default now. The Venezuelan turns only 23 later this month, but he’s regressed since a .506 slugging mark in 126 combined games in 2011.

LeVon Washington, A Lake County, CF/LF, 7/26/1991
Season stats: .351/.468/.532 in 22 games with 0 HR, 9 RBI, 17 BB, 15 K, 9 SB, 1 E

#WashTime is back. After undergoing hip surgery last season, only playing 13 games total, Cleveland’s 2010 2nd-rounder is back with the Captains. He also played there in 2011 so he should move quickly to at least High-A this season. He’s uber-athletic and has very high upside.

Another high-end position player prospect, D’Vone McClure, has yet to appear in a game this season.

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The final word

Before the season started, here are what three different outlets wrote about the Indians organizational talent in their team prospect rankings:

Keith Law, ESPN.com Insider (link) — #19

“With Francisco Lindor and Dorssys Paulino, they have some of the best shortstop depth of any organization in baseball right now. They could be primed for a big leap if any of the young pitching they’ve drafted the past two years comes through in 2013.”

Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus (link) – #19

“It’s a weird system because it features a lot of talent, including two of the top 30 prospects in the game, but the majority of that talent has yet to take the step forward in status, so the overall grade suffers as a result.”

John Sickels, Minor League Ball (link) – #24

“I thought this system could take a big step forward but it didn’t really happen. Strengths: Trevor Bauer and some lively arms behind him. Middle infield depth beginning with Francisco Lindor and Dorssys Paulino. Weaknesses: uninspired performances from young tools players at the lower levels, but there is still time for those guys to come around. The Indians remain an organization that could take a big leap forward in ‘13.”

These reviews remain in line with what we’ve seen thus far in 2013 from the top Indians prospects. Outside of Lindor’s on-point production, there’s mostly been a lot of let-downs compared to possible expectations. The system lacks significant star power although it has a lot of intriguing young talent. But we’ve seen relatively little from those players just yet.

One of my biggest concerns going forward is the organization’s track record of success with developing young pitchers. I sent out a tweet earlier today about the 16 pitchers that Cleveland has drafted in the first 10 rounds since 2010. Of them, one didn’t sign, three haven’t pitched so far in 2013 and only three that remain in the Indians organization1 have reached the Double-A level with mixed results. That seems awful concerning.

We’ll need to see more from these players listed above if the Indians are going to make a jump into the top half of organizational prospect rankings for 2014. We’ll also need to see a strong drafting performance starting tomorrow — with hopefully high upside being the story of the day.

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Footnotes:

  1. The team’s 1st-rounder in 2010, Drew Pomeranz, has by far the most impressive numbers of the bunch, but of course he’s in Colorado’s Triple-A level now. []
  • Harv 21

    actually, found this a slightly depressing read. Lindor is Lindor, Bauer will be fine as soon as he figures out which groceries to bag so that he can deliver the load without stuff spilling everywhere. The rest seem meh except Naquin and Salazar.

    Curious why you’re not impressed with Naquin. Maybe continued lack of pop is making you see Trevor Crowe.

  • mgbode

    yeah, lots of promise in the lower levels, but not the upper levels. and, no guarantee that lower-level promise delivers.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This is why I wish in the upcoming draft the Indians had a higher selection so that they had a shot at one of the two more established college players. There is a chance someone might fall but personally I’m not big on drafting high school players. Not only does it take longer for them to develop there is an inherent risk that they develop at all.

  • JacobWFNY

    TINSTAAP exactly, my friend.

    Recall that Naquin is 22 years old in High-A. That’s not anything that impressive. He was always labeled as a safe pick at No. 15 for cost reasons. In my mind, he’s only our No. 4 prospect by default.

    Now look at this:
    2012: 36 games in short-season, .270/.379/.380, 4 steals, 10.6 BB%, 16.1 K%
    2013: 55 games in High-A, .316/.373/.474, 5 steals, 7.2 BB%, 21.9 K%

    His average and slugging might be up, but his on-base, steals and walk/strikeout ratios are way in the wrong direction.

    I see Naquin most likely as a 4th outfielder (Crowe/Francisco/Carrera-esque), with an upside for being a league-average starter.

  • Harv 21

    High schoolers scare me too, but Lindor seems fine and I think they’re trying to change the mindset that made them favor older, more “polished” college guys like Michael Aubrey who never made it, or Jeremy Guthrie who forever to develop even after college. Trading for “head case” Bauer, high schooler Lindor – maybe they’re swinging philosophically toward raw talent/high ceiling.

  • mgbode

    yes, I agree on Naquin. His selection will be considered a “hit” if he proves worthy of a part-time MLB role + the players we gambled on with that extra slot $$ hit it big.

  • mgbode

    I agree with the org’s philosophy switch to the high ceiling (aka
    younger) players because we need to be a team that takes chances and
    develops players. But, the changeover seems to have left us at a place
    with a bunch of prospects in the lower levels (which are never known) and very few higher than A-ball.

  • Harv 21

    I know the amateur baseball draft is hard, but if I ran an org once the obvious top few were taken think I’d only go for guys either with partial electric skills – like off the chart throwing or running speeds – and those with insane work ethics. It’s laughable how, despite all the scouting and metrics, still the college elite crumble, while unknown grinders like Piazza and Mattingly will their way to excellence.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The cases of Aubrey and to some degree Guthrie were more cases of bad selection more then anything. There were other more “polished” guys available who could have been drafted the Indians just chose the wrong ones.

    Don’t get me wrong I’m not opposed to high school draftees it just takes so long for them to develop if they do at all. Also given the fact that the Indians had problems drafting what might be considered “polished” players what makes anyone comfortable enough to think they could draft HS players successfully.

    In either regard clearly drafting has been an issue. Luckily it seems like the Indians are doing a better job even if you aren’t seeing it on the major league roster yet.

  • JacobWFNY

    Guthrie?? As a bad pick?? He’s actually the second-best signed draft pick by the Indians since 1997 per career WAR.

    That’s a gruesome stat. But this is a gruesome chart. Although obviously some youngsters aren’t on this chart yet due to MLB playing time, this is a fact:

    The recent draft picks of Brad Grant haven’t proven anything yet at the big league level (besides Kipnis). They obviously need some more time. But the clock is ticking.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I was commenting on drafted players while in the organization not years after. Guthrie only appeared in 16 games over 3 years as a member of the Indians as opposed to 161 games with the Orioles, 25 with the Royals and 19 with the Rockies. Until 2012 Guthrie’s numbers weren’t all that impressive and even then he was 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 games.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Note in 2007 and 2008 his first two years in Baltimore he did have an ERA under 4.

  • Harv 21

    this list is horrific. With all the draft rounds from 1998 to 2011 … I could take a player print-out, a blindfold and a pin and do better. And from an organization that cannnot compete straight-up for free agents …Please delete this.

  • JacobWFNY

    Still wasn’t necessarily a bad pick: Guthrie has produced slightly above-average numbers over 1,200+ career MLB innings. Can’t fault the Indians’ drafting mechanisms for picking him at No. 20.

    That’s actually the Moneyball draft too, so if you recall, Guthrie was a top-10 talent that year out of Stanford. The Indians were just the first team willing to work with Boras and actually sign him.

    Still stands as the second-best draft pick per WAR. If we’re going by just WAR accumulated with the Indians, this chart looks even worse. And it’s already disgusting.

  • JacobWFNY

    Using 3.5 WAR as the cut-off, here’s the chart on top signed draft picks by the St. Louis Cardinals since 1997.

    Of course, Cleveland has 10 and St. Louis has 20. That’s bad enough. But also note the number of players since 2004: Cleveland has 2 and St. Louis has 8.

  • mgbode

    That’s just absolutely disgusting. That list makes Sam Presti jealous. When Luke Gregerson and Matt Carpenter are your 19th and 20th best guys while Luke Scott is the Indians 3rd best.

    I think I need to lie down now.

  • mgbode

    It does beg the eternal question: is it ability to draft or ability to develop?

    most likely a mixture, but which is more important and which is where the Indians are completely failing? I don’t know how to even go about figuring out that answer though.

  • JacobWFNY

    Very valid question. And I don’t necessarily think there is a way to determine that answer. It’s obviously both departments’ fault and it has to be corrected, especially for a mid-market team.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The fact that he stands as the second-best draft pick is exactly what is so scary TO ME. WAR, Non-WAR I don’t care how you want to label it. Moneyball or Bill James that doesn’t matter to me either I’m simply saying that there has/had been a systemic failure to draft well by the Indians. Because they could not outspend their mistakes like other teams drafting poorly put them significantly behind. If not for some tremendous trades (I give Shapiro his due he did make some great deals) imagine what this team would have looked like solely based on drafting and free agency.

    Thankfully after some infusion of $$$ the Indians utilized free agency and significantly improved the team. While it’s much better the severe lack of pitching, namely starting pitching, will continue to weigh them back ESPECIALLY if the offense slows and can’t provide enough run support.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Based on the success of the minor league teams I’d have to believe it’s the ability to draft. I mean if the Indians don’t draft well yet have successful minor league teams that would clearly seem to say to me that these players have some ability which has been harnessed it’s just not major league talent.

  • Scout 101

    Eric Haase catcher of lake county needs to be in this conversation. His recent struggles do not match but the kid is a super star. I saw him play at Fort Wayne and he just smashes the ball. Great arm raw catching ability. Great work ethic. Will be in the bigs one day.

  • Sturkdogg

    I’ll tell ya bud, that was a great article. So informative for us who usually just follow the box scores or the minor league games. Great job compiling it all.