Cleveland Indians Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but it will come out eventually. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Francisco Lindor, SS, Grade A: Does everything well except hit home runs, and I think he could eventually develop more power than people currently expect. In the meantime you’ll have to settle for batting average, OBP, steals, and excellent defense. One of my favorite prospects.
2) Trevor Bauer, RHP, Grade B+: Borderline A-. Tempting to push him up to an A- given what he’s done in his first two starts, but I am leery of overreacting to sample size. That said, it is clear that he has made adjustments and remains an elite pitching prospect.
3) Clint Frazier, OF, Grade B+: I love his bat speed, power, and all-around tools. Main question is contact, if his high strikeout rate in rookie ball is just a blip or an indicator of trouble at higher levels. Given what we know about Frazier I will go with optimism.
4) Dorssys Paulino, SS, Grade B-: Borderline C+: High upside infielder struggled some in the Midwest League at age 18 but tools are obvious and he played better late in the year. Defensive tools may fit best at third base but he may not develop enough power for the hot corner.
5) Cody Anderson, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline B-: I may end up at B- here. 14th round pick in ’11 from Feather River Junior College throws strikes with four pitches, has durable workhorse frame, not spectacular but classic fourth starter projection.
6) Ronny Rodriguez, INF, Grade C+: Another toolsy infielder playing at an advanced level for his age, 21 last year in Double-A. Should be solid defender but presence of Lindor and Jason Kipnis makes it tough for Rodriguez to find a job in this system as anything but a utility player unless something bad happens. Not an OBP guy, but could develop some power in time.
7) Jose Ramirez, INF, Grade C+: Not as toolsy as Paulino or RR, but more polished. Undersized line drive hitter with good speed saw big league action late in the year ahead of more-heralded talents. Solid glove but like the others he’s destined for utility work or a trade in this organization. Capable of better than his .272/.325/.349 line last year in Double-A.
8) Francisco Mejia, C, Grade C+: High-upside catcher from Dominican hit .305/.348/.524 in Arizona Rookie League at age 17. Needs to improve plate discipline, but has potential to hit for power and average at higher levels, also has good defensive tools. It will be interesting to see if they push him as quickly as they’ve pushed some of their other Latin American prospects.
9) Tyler Naquin, OF, Grade C+: When I saw him at Texas A&M I thought he’d be a sweet-swing line drive hitter who makes great contact and has doubles power. He’s shown the latter but I didn’t expect him to strike out as much as he has so far, 134 in 126 games last year and seven more in his first five this year. This could cut into his OBP and average. Very good defense but looks more like a fourth outfielder to me at this point.
10) Joe Wendle, 2B, Grade C+: Reminds me of Tommy La Stella in the Braves system, with less batting average but more power. Hit .295/.372/.513 in High-A, sixth round pick from West Chester University in ’12. Good plate discipline, plays above his tools. Like La Stella, Wendle is rated as a mediocre defender by scouts but has actually put up decent numbers, good enough to stick there anyway if he hits enough. That won’t happen in Cleveland with Kipnis around but Wendle could be great trade bait if he continues to hit.
11) LeVon Washington, OF, Grade C+: Injury-plagued outfielder quietly hit .348/.444/.552 in 61 games between doctor’s visits last year. Seems like he is falling off the radar, but his hitting skills are intact and he is still just 22. I’d rank him as high as sixth if I was more certain of his health. Not injured yet this year and hitting .318/.400/.500 in High-A. Do not sleep on this one.
12) Luis Lugo, LHP, Grade C+: Very interesting lefty from Venezuela, highly projectable, already 6-5, 200, age 20. Chance for three strong pitches if everything comes together, performed well in NY-P last year (1.97 ERA in 11 starts).
13) Austin Adams, RHP, Grade C+: Impressive relief prospect came back from Tommy John, posted 2.62 ERA with 76 whiffs in 55 innings last year for Akron. Now in Triple-A and destined to see Cleveland pen later this year. Can get up to 97 MPH.
14) Tony Wolters, C-INF, Grade C+: Converted to catcher and acquitted himself well though of course he needs more polish. I thought he was a decent infielder too so perhaps he can be a super-utility type. He’s not punchless either, featuring decent on-base skills and occasional doubles power. He wasn’t going to get an infield chance with this team given the logjam up the middle.
15) Carlos Moncrief, OF, Grade C+: Borderline C: May not look like much on paper, a 25 year old just reaching Triple-A, but look deeper. He’s a good athlete despite stocky 6-0, 220 frame, has a good throwing arm, runs well for his size, hit a steady .284/.354/.470 with 17 homers, 15 steals and a greatly reduced strikeout rate last year in Double-A. Could wind being a very useful role player.
16) Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Grade C: Borderline C+: Like Moncrief, Aguilar succeeded in Double-A and has a power bat, but he is limited defensively to first base whereas Carlos can play the outfield. Might get typecast as a Quadruple-A slugger. It is hard for a RHH first baseman to get a job with merely a solid bat.
17) Dace Kime, RHP, Grade C: Borderline C+: University of Louisville right-hander, third round pick, rather inconsistent with low-90s fastball and good cutter, needs sharper control. Being used as a starter but I suspect he winds up in relief eventually.
18) C.C. Lee, RHP, Grade C: Borderline C+: I have liked him as a relief arm for several years and I still do, but he’s 27 now. When he’s right, generates both ground balls and strikeouts, particularly against right-handed hitters.
19) Dylan Baker, RHP, Grade C: Borderline C+: Physical right-hander from Alaska via Western Nevada CC, had a fair season in Low-A (3.63 ERA, 117/62 K/BB in 144 IP), good fastball but secondary pitches still under development. He might break through if he throws more strikes.
20) Anthony Santander, OF, Grade C: Venezuelan switch-hitter has tools to hit for both power and average but hasn’t done it against full-season pitching yet. He’s just 19 though, hit .242/.303/.370 last year in Low-A.
OTHERS: Shawn Armstrong, RHP; Sean Brady, LHP; Mitch Brown, RHP; Kyle Crockett, LHP; Trevor Frank, RHP; Erik Gonzalez, INF; Eric Haase, C; Jake Lowery, C; Alex Monsalve, C; Adam Plutko, RHP; Nelson Rodriguez, 1B; Duke Von Schamman, RH Werfer.
On the surface this system looks thin, but many of the C+/C guys have good upside and just need more experience. Lindor, Bauer, and Frazier are all impact prospects with a chance to be stars. After that is a large group with good tools but who have either not done much with them or are just getting started.
There is a big roster of talent up the middle. Lindor and Jason Kipnis looks like the double play combination of the near future, which leaves the other youngsters vying for utility roles or for spots in trades. Other positions are not as deep. It would be ironic if guys like older prospects like Moncrief and Wendle end up being better players than the hyped tools hounds, but stranger things have happened. Don’t forget about Washington, who has both tools and skills if he can stay healthy enough to use them.
On the mound you have Bauer and a bunch of guys who could be mid-rotation starters or useful relievers. Some do have breakout potential, thinking particularly of Lugo and Baker. Danny Salazar shows what can happen when a guy with a good arm makes some adjustments and leaps forward.
Overall, the system isn’t completely empty and any organization would love to have the top trio, but the Indians need to make more progress adding depth. They are pretty aggressive in Latin America although so far that hasn’t paid great dividends, Salazar being the big exception.