|Original Published Date: Oct. 18, 2013|
The Cleveland Indians are starting to make noise as a perennial contender by both creating a funnel of talent from their farm system and through the acquisition of key free agents. To-date, they’ve avoided making a long-term free agent investment that could limit their flexibility downstream once that player starts his decline. Instead, they’ve signed players like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to reasonable termed contracts. This strategy should dovetail nicely with their developing minor league system that has some significant pieces to help in the future.
The two prizes of their system are shortstop Francisco Lindor and 2013 first round pick, Clint Frazier. Lindor is a true shortstop and could be ready for a taste of the major leagues in 2014. Frazier has elite bat speed and while still a teenager, could move quickly and develop into an all-star middle of the order talent.
As with previous years, the Indians strength continues to be middle infield. In addition to Lindor, the Indians stable of middle infielders include: Dorssys Paulino, Ronny Rodriguez, Joseph Wendle, and Jose Ramirez. Because of the depth, the Indians moved Tony Wolters off second base and are converting him to a catcher. The bat definitely profiles behind the dish and the early results of his transition are encouraging.
The clear enigma within the system is Trevor Bauer. Acquired as part of a three-way deal over the winter, the Indians believed that they had received a top-of-the-rotation talent, but 2013 raised concerns. While the talent is there, Bauer’s fastball velocity dipped and he continued to struggle with his control. The Indians decided against calling him up once rosters expanded in September and instead will focus on his mechanics during the Fall Instructional League.
After a long drought, the future is once again bright in Cleveland.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: Role 6-7
|Ht:5-11 Weight: 175||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Entering the year as the Indians top prospect and one of the best prospects in the entire minors, Francisco Lindor maintained his prospect status while batting .303 with a .380 OBP across High-A and Double-A while playing excellent defense. His defense looks major league ready now. His lateral movements are effortless as are his instincts to seemingly be at the “right place at the right time” to make a play. He’s a pure shortstop and clearly the shortstop of the future for the Indians.
Offensively, I’m not as excited about Lindor as others. Yes there is potential, but he’s got a long way to go to be considered a plus offensive prospect. Strength is the biggest deficiency in his physical maturity. In a small sample size of 76 at-bats in Double-A, his Isolated Power (ISO) was .105. However, he is showing a mature approach by walking more than he struck out in 2013 (46K/49BB in 403 at-bats) and the speed continues to play as he stole 25 bases in 32 attempts.
While Lindor will only turn 20 in November, he might not be far away from making his big league debut. The defense will clearly play and he should be able to hold his own at the plate by putting up a .270/.330/.360 slash line which together, should provide a WAR that is greater than the 0.4 that Asdrubal Cabrera posted in 2013.
Fantasy Impact: While I like Lindor and believe he’s a top 20 prospect, he lacks the offensive profile to become a fantasy stud. The OBP should allow him to hit at the top of the order and his speed, at least early in his career should provide him with 20+ stolen base potential. That’s a slightly lighter version of Elvis Andrus
|2014 Age: 19||Ceiling: Role 6-7
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Selected with the number five overall pick in the 2013 draft, Clint Frazier has premium bat speed coupled with athleticism to give him the highest upside in the Indians organization and one of the highest upside in the entire minor leagues.
As with Chicago Cub Javier Baez, Frazier’s carrying tool is premium bat speed. He does it with incredibly strong wrist and tremendous torque that allows him to make hard contact. The ball jumps off his bat and that skill will lead to plus future power potential. At 6-foot-1, the power will be deceptive as Frazier doesn’t have the “slugger” body and in fact, looks more like a middle infielder.
While there is power in the swing, there is also a lot of swing and miss. In his 173 at-bats in the AZL, he made contact only 65% of the time. While it’s hard to go by stat lines in the complex league, the aggressive nature of his approach supports the performance. He swings, he swings hard, and many times over swings in order to make contact. With development, this will improve, but he’ll always be prone to a high strikeout totals.
While Frazier is athletic, his speed currently grades out at a 60-65. However, as he fills out, I would expect him to become an average runner at best. Defensively this should translate to a corner outfielder; likely a right fielder as he does have an above average arm.
Fantasy Impact: Frazier has tremendous offensive upside and could become a 25+ home run threat hitting in the middle of the Indians lineup. The batting average will be limited but he could put up useful OBP numbers that should allow him to post good run scored totals. Because of his lack of speed, he’ll likely not be a fantasy stud but a player capable of earning $25 annually once he fully matures.
|2014 Age: 19||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-0 Weight: 175||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
I was really bullish on Dorssys Paulino coming into 2013 but the performance just wasn’t there. As a 18-year-old playing in full season Low-A, Paulino posted a .246/.297/.349 but did show a decent contact and walk rate of 81% and 6.3% respectively. While the performance could be viewed as a step-back, I still believe in the bat and believe that Paulino still has First Division upside.
Paulino has all the makings of a plus hit-tool with quick strong hands, lots of bat speed and the ability to pickup pitches early, particularly breaking pitches. Even as the fifth youngest player in the Midwest League, Paulino held his own and improved in each month of the season. He ended August with a .281/.330/.385 slash line while maintaining excellent contact. I believe the bat speed will eventually translate into 10-15 home run power at the highest level with a top of the lineup profile.
He should begin 2014 in the Carolina League as one of the youngest players in that league and I expect the performance to start to catch-up to the scouting report.
Fantasy Impact: While my confidence has been shaken by the pedestrian year for Paulino, I’m still buying in a Dynasty League. Shortstops that have a chance to hit .300 with some pop and speed entering High-A need to be owned in all Dynasty Leagues. Given his year in 2013, a smart Dynasty owner would be trying to buy-low on the young Dominican.
|2014 Age: 23||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 155||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2012|
I was down on Trevor Bauer entering 2013 and after sitting on a start with him in early May, I’ve become more convinced that Bauer ceiling is no longer top-of-the-rotation but that of a number three starter. While the secondary pitches are getting swings and misses, it’s his fastball that has taken a step back. Here’s what I observed on his arsenal:
- 90-93 MPH four-seam fastball that stayed within that range except for the second to last pitch of his outing where he reared back and hit 95. The pitch is ok for me but doesn’t have a lot of life or movement. Plus, given his frame at 6-foot-1, it comes in fairly flat.
- 86-87 MPH cut fastball that has screw-ball like action. This is a pretty good pitch and Bauer threw it a lot, particularly early in the contest.
- 79-81 MPH slider that fell short for me during the game. It was an average pitch that lacked a lot of bite.
- 73-77 MPH curve that is a plus pitch and maybe more. It’s a hammer of a curve that when Bauer can throw it for strikes, is a real weapon. The curve was really working during the game and he threw it a lot (nearly 40% of the time)
- 80-81 MPH change-up that had good arm action and nice velocity separation with his fastball but lacked depth. I rate this pitch as solid-average.
As has been much discussed, the arsenal is comprehensive and Bauer takes great pride in that. He’s targeting strikeouts and trying to make the perfect pitch and that drives up his pitch count. In the outing I scouted, he lasted five innings, struck out eight in 97 pitches.
The other issue that is holding Bauer back is his ability to control his arsenal. He walked 73 batters in 121 innings in Triple-A and it was even worse in his limited 17 innings in the Majors where he walked 16. The problem starts with the violence in his delivery. While the momentum to the plate is outstanding, the finishing of his delivery is not. He routinely jerks his head on the landing and then falls off hard to the first base side. The balance is well below average and this in turn, is causing him to not be able to repeat his delivery and lose his release point. It’s just not good and until he modifies his mechanics, I think finding elite success will be difficult.
Finally, while Bauer just turns 23 in January of 2014, his makeup has become a question throughout the industry and has even made it’s way to the public. “Stubbornness” and “not listening” seemed to be what I hear the most. The Diamondbacks essentially gave up on him barely a year after they drafted him third in the country. If this is in fact true, then you might even question the ceiling of a number three starter.
In summary, I believe Bauer’s problem begin with his mechanics and have caused his fastball to take a step backwards and for him to struggle to find a consistent release point. It’s a shame, because the secondary stuff is really good; causing some nasty swings and misses. However, until he re-works the mechanics, he’s going to struggle.
Fantasy Impact: I’m just not buying into Trevor Bauer. If I owned him in a Dynasty League, I would be trying to sell. I wouldn’t take fifty cents on the dollar, but I would take seventy.
|2014 Age: 24||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:5-11 Weight: 190||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2014-15|
With a plethora of middle infielders in the Cleveland organization, I’m not sure where Joe Wendle will play, but he can hit and has power and speed in his game as well.
Taken in the sixth round of the 2012 draft as a senior graduate out of West Chester University in Pennsylvania, Joseph Wendle put up great numbers in the Carolina League in 2013 with a slash line of .295/.372/.513 with 16 home runs and 10 stolen bases. His batting stance is very wide but he does have bat speed and the ability to turn on fastballs. While the power is mostly pull-side, he does have enough leverage to hit 15-20 home runs at the highest level.
For an investment of $10,000, the Indians clearly have something in Wendle. He likely profiles as a second division starter or maybe a utility player, but his hit tool might even force that issue. He should start 2014 in Double-A and might be a second half Jason Kipnis injury from getting an opportunity in Cleveland.
Fantasy Impact: I’m drafting Wendle in a Dynasty League as I view him as a Top 200 talent.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-0 Weight: 170||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
I expected Ronny Rodriguez to build on his nice 2012 season but unfortunately he took a step backwards, particularly in the power department.
The good news is the bat speed is still there as is the contactability (84%), however the anemic walk rate that he had in 2012 continued in 2013 and might limit his upside if he doesn’t learn some patience. While I prefer a batter being aggressive as oppose to passive, a walk rate of 3.4% in Double-A is a red flag.
The chances of Rodriguez repeating Double-A in 2014 is high and given his performance in 2013, it’s probably warranted. I was surprised that he was not invited to the AFL but instead will spend time playing in the Dominican Winter League. Given the depth in middle infield and the full-time arrival of Francisco Lindor in Double-A, it’s unclear what position Rodriguez will play in 2014. I still think he’s a candidate to move to the outfield and why spending time in a development league like the AFL made sense.
Fantasy Impact: I still like the bat speed and athleticism of Rodriguez and therefore, I’m still bullish on him as both a baseball player and a fantasy contributor. He still has above average power potential with the ability to add double-digit stolen bases. Assuming he stays at shortstop, that could translate into a nice fantasy asset.
|2014 Age: 23||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 220||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014-15|
Drafted in 2010 by the Tampa Bay Rays, Cody Anderson elected not to sign, entered Junior College and decided to take his chances in the 2011 draft. It paid off and Anderson was taken three rounds earlier in the 14th round and took home a $250,000 signing bonus.
The 6-foot-4, 220 pound right-hander had a good year in 2012, but took it up a notch in 2013 as his fastball increased a grade as did his curve ball. His fastball is now sitting 90-92 MPH and can touch higher and with his high three-quarter delivery, is able to get a decent amount of ground balls. With the improvements primarily with his curve ball, his strikeout rate moved from 6.59 K/9 in 2012 to 8.17 K/9 in 2013.
As with his arsenal, Anderson’s pitching mechanics are also pretty good. He has nice balance and posture, although he does noticeable try and stay tall on the mound with decent momentum to the plate. All of this is leading to excellent control, if we disregard his three starts in Double-A where he gave up nine walks in 12.2 innings.
Fantasy Impact: Anderson is draftable in a Dynasty League that will go 250-300 deep. He could get a chance in the majors in 2014 and has a ceiling of a number four starter. He should provide 7-7.5 strikeouts per nine with league average ratios.
8. Jose Ramirez (2B)
Jose Ramirez tore through the minor leagues over the past two years, spending 67 games in Low-A as a 19-year-old in 2012, skipping over High-A and playing in 113 games in Double-A before making his Major League debut in September as a 20-year-old. WOW! At 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, Ramirez is a scrappy hitter with a mature approach and the ability to make contact and then use his speed to cause disruption on the base path. To date, he has shown no power. He likely profiles as a utility player but could have a long career if he can maintain this profile.
9. Dace Kime (RHP)
Selected out of Louisville in the third round of the 2013 draft, Dace Kime was used primarily as a reliever in college but for now, the Indians will be using him as a starter; and for good reason. He has size at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds with a fastball that sits in the low 90’s and can touch higher with a plus curve ball. His control can come and go as was evident in his 24.2 innings in the New York Penn League where he walked 16. The pitching mechanics are pretty good with nice momentum, good posture and balance, although his balance does leave him falling to the first base side. The control problems come from poor timing that is causing him to lose his release point and should be correctable as he works through the development process.
10. Tyler Naquin (OF)
Taken as the 15th pick in the 2012 draft, Tyler Naquin does everything fairly well but doesn’t have a true carrying tool. Across High-A and Double-A, he had a slash line of .269/.334/.405 with 10 home runs and a 75% contact rate. He also added 15 stolen bases but was thrown out 10 times. The swing is workable with a quiet setup and nice level swing where he uses his lower half well to generate power. There isn’t a lot of bat speed, so I doubt he’ll project for more than low double-digit home runs at the highest level. I have his ceiling at a Role 4-5 or a fringe average prospect.
2014 Emerging Prospect:
Tony Wolters (C)
I ranked Tony Wolters as the fifth prospect in the Indians organization in 2012 primarily because I really liked the bat speed. However, given the plethora of middle infielders, I wasn’t sure where he would get his opportunity. That was resolved in 2013 as the Indians decided to move him to catcher. He had a similar offensive year in repeating High-A, even improving his contact rate to 80% and his walk rate to 14% while learning how to catch. He has arm strength and athleticism that once he learns to provide a soft target for the pitcher, could very play at the highest level.