Carlos Moncrief: Cleveland’s most surprising 2013 prospect

moncrief photoAkron Aeros outfielder Carlos Moncrief is not your typical prospect.

At 24 years old, he’s a bit more, well, mature than the average Double-A Eastern League player. He’s listed as 6-foot and 219-lbs, which both seem to be moderately generous. And as a former pitcher, he doesn’t have quite that much professional experience as a batter.

But the Cleveland Indians can no longer ignore the incredible production that Moncrief is displaying in 2013. Without a doubt, he’s been the organization’s most improved prospect and he’s making his case to be the league’s MVP.

From June 1 through Friday, the Mississippi native was one of the best all-around players in the minor leagues. His line: .360/.429/.645 in 49 games with 29 extra-base hits, 39 runs, 41 RBI and six steals. He also had an efficient 23 walks against just 33 strikeouts.

[Related: The Diff: All-Star update on Cleveland Indians prospects]

The hype

Rightfully, entering this season, Baseball America named Carlos Moncrief as having the best outfield arm in the Indians system. That much was never in question based on his two years spent as a minor league pitcher. The issue was whether he was a legit hitting prospect.

Indians Baseball Insider’s Tony Lastoria has been as high as anyone on Moncrief’s future potential as a prospect. He tabbed the outfielder as the organization’s No. 36 prospect prior to the 2012 season, then up to the No. 29 prospect before this year. Some of the main reasons for Lastoria’s confidence: Moncrief clearly is one of the most physically gifted players in the system. He is the closest thing the Indians have to a five-tool player.

The power speaks for itself. His iso (slugging minus average) numbers have consistently been in the .185-.215 range the past three seasons. That’s top-20 percentile power in the major leagues. Then, his outfield arm is one-of-a-kind defensive tool. He had 21 total outfield assists for Lake County in 2011. He has 14 more this season and has contributed to seven double plays.

For his stout size, he’s also a very athletic runner. He racked up 37 steals in the previous two seasons before Double-A, including successful endeavors on 17/19 attempts for High-A Carolina. While his batting average never was great and he struck out quite a lot, he still walked at a very above-average rate. He drew 76 free passes in 2011, good for fourth in the Midwest League. He’s showing such plate discipline again now.

Following 2011, Moncrief admitted how he needed to improve his mental toughness but seemed pleased with his continued improvement.

“I feel pretty good about my year,” Moncrief said to Lastoria. “I feel like I settled in as a position player. At the beginning of the year I was still learning some different things like learning how to [properly] load when I am hitting. I know I had some ups and downs all season, but I feel pretty good about what I learned [last] season and will be able to go into next season with a better mental approach.”

Certainly, he’s displaying all of his prized tools this year and Lastoria looks like a seer. Although MLB.com didn’t rank him among the top-20 Indians prospects in their prospect re-ranking last week, he’s certain to garner more ranking notoriety in the upcoming offseason despite his age.

[Related: Francisco Lindor’s Double-A debut is tonight: Are we ready?]

The turnaround

To be clear though, Moncrief has had these types of streaks before. He had one such run back in 2011 with the Single-A Lake County Captains when he batted .290/.353/.523 in July, as The Lake County Sentinel’s Justin Lada wrote that month.

And it goes without saying that his production wasn’t all that special through May. Although there were some signs of improvement, he was batting just .254/.329/.378 in his first 49 games of the 2013 season.

Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez witnessed similar streakiness last season with High-A Carolina. Rodriguez is a trusted voice who has MLB managing experience with the Florida Marlins and coached the surprise Puerto Rico team in this year’s World Baseball Classic.

“He did the same thing last year,” Rodriguez said to the Akron Beacon Journal’s Stephanie Storm in May. “He started slow offensively and defensively and then whenever he settled down, his abilities started taking control of the game. That’s what we’re seeing here in Akron now.”

Twice this season, Moncrief has launched homerun balls over Canal Park’s 60-foot batter’s eye in center field. Such a feat was rumored to only occur once ever in the stadium’s previous 16 years by an Indians prospect (former slugger David Miller).

One such monster shot was against Baltimore Orioles top pitching prospect Kevin Gausman back in May. Rodriguez played his cool when Moncrief returned to the dugout.

“Everybody else was high-fiving him and he looked at me expecting me to, too,” Rodriguez said to Storm. “I said, ‘What? I’ve seen you do that before. You’re supposed to do that.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you know me.’ ”

He was honored by the Indians organization as their minor league player of the week back in mid-June.

“I feel like I’m starting to really understand how to hit,” Moncrief said to the Akron Beacon Journal’s Ryan Lewis last month. “A lot of people say that I’ve been on a hot streak, but if I’m on a hot streak then Miguel Cabrera’s been on a hot streak throughout the whole season. It’s just an understanding of what you’re doing.”

[Related: An early look at Cleveland Indians prospect rankings]

The journey

A product of Jackson, Miss., Moncrief was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school in the 20th round in the 2007 draft. After not reaching a deal, he attended Chipola Junior College in Florida, a premier junior college program. That one season led to the Indians taking a gamble on the two-way player in the 14th round of the 2008 draft. They should be quite thankful they were able to make a deal.

As a pitcher, Moncrief struggled with his mechanics and his fastball command. Although he could touch the mid-90s and had a developing slider, pitching just wasn’t in the cards for him. At the end of the 2009 season pitching in Arizona, he suffered through shoulder tightness. He said that affected his range of motion, giving him the idea to move back to the outfield, something he’s always preferred.

He pleaded in a one-on-one meeting with farm director Ross Atkins that his heart wasn’t into pitching and he wouldn’t let the organization down as a hitter. He certainly hasn’t in 2013.

Remember the name Carlos Moncrief. A late-bloomer, he’s emerging as one of the premier Double-A players and eventually might just get his shot at a major league opportunity.

(Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Trade bait

  • Harv 21

    Who could be more of a fan fav than a chubby athletic masher. Brian Giles, Kirby Puckett … love those guys.

  • nj0

    Nice article. I’ve been high on this guy for a while now. Glad to raise some awareness for this kid.

  • nj0

    Yeah, why would we want a power hitting corner outfielder for seven more years?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    He’s 24 and still in double A he doesn’t have 7 years.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Giles and Puckett were chubby?

  • nj0

    Not sure what you’re saying. We’ll control him for seven once he hits the majors, regardless of age. Or are you just saying he’s too old to be good for seven more years?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The latter going by his schedule it’ll be what at least another 2-3 years before he’d make the majors? That means he’d be 26-27 as a rookie. Yea I guess there’s always a chance.

  • nj0

    Good old Casey Blake didn’t play regularly until he was 29. It’s possible. What’s interesting with Moncrief is the way he in effect wasted years as a pitcher, yet he was still able to quickly figure out hitting. I’m a believer that players can play, regardless of position or sport. I hope Moncrief is one of these guys. And who knows, maybe the organization will fast track him considering his age/background/shelf life?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Sorry still sounds like trade bait to me but you clearly like the kid, I mean guy.

  • nj0

    Fair enough. I wouldn’t be against trading him if we got a real return. I’m just excited at the idea of a position player in the minors who could possible help us next year (or maybe even this). That and having a legit corner outfielder who isn’t a light hitting converted CF.

  • Rick Manning

    But, but, but Michael Brantleys batting average is awesome, and hes second on the team in RBI’s.

  • Natedawg86

    round heads

  • baclap

    Jacob is always bringing his A game. Nice article.

  • JacobWFNY

    Thank you much. Appreciate that.

  • JacobWFNY

    Thanks. Have been writing notes about him all year, but felt fans deserved an appropriate introduction.

  • markn95

    I’ve seen this guy in person in Akron and really like his game. The guy he reminds me the most of is Shin Soo Choo. They have the same background (pitcher turned hitter), similar physique, and most importantly, similar tools (decent speed and athleticism, great throwing arm, and power). Admittedly, Choo is probably Moncrief’s “ceiling” given his age and inconsistencies. But the talent is there. There’s really no one like this guy in the upper levels of the Tribe’s farm system. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in Columbus either this year or next, because he could easily get a shot with big club sometime in 2014.

  • Jaker

    Nice Jacob, what do you realistically see his future as? Starter for a 5 years, AAAA guy, Bench bat in MLB? I know nothing on him, but it sounds like he has “solid #6-7 batter on a good team”

  • JacobWFNY

    He’s not a traditional prospect, again, so there’s no mold for 24-year-old late-bloomers or established book on Moncrief’s potential as a hitter. That being said, as of now, he’s a fourth outfielder with potential, at best, to be a Casey Blake.

    Blake had his first MLB season with 42+ PAs in his age-29 year in 2003. Over the next eight seasons through 2010, he averaged 144 games, a 109 OPS+ and 3.0 WAR/season. So yeah, that’s solidly above average. But it’s still way too early to say anything more than a Trevor Crowe/Jason Donald life.

  • Matt S

    That’s probably a bit too optimistic on his hitting. Choo was putting up roughly the same offensive stats (slash line of .315/.382/.462 versus .303/.373/.500 for Moncrief) at the same level… at three years younger. There’s something to be said for excelling when you’re young for the league.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if he was that good. But I’m a bit more cautious in my optimism, and I think Jacob’s comparison to Casey Blake isn’t a bad one.