2013 Indians Top 60 Prospect Countdown Preview
Last season the Indians struggled at the big league level, and it resulted in a change in manager and a change in their organizational philosophy in the offseason. Things were a little better on the player development front, but there is no doubt that the recent changes in the offseason will trickle down to how things operate in player development going forward.
While the Indians may have been more active in the free agent market than they have in the past with the signing of outfielder Nick Swisher to a big deal, their farm system will always continue to be the backbone of the organization. A great many of their impact and All Star type players will need to come from within and those players will be the bloodline to any success they have as an organization. It is how they became so successful in the 1990s and once again in the mid-2000s, and will be how they become successful again in the future.
Every season there are always disappointments and surprises when it comes evaluating how all the prospects in the Indians’ system developed over the course of the year. Considering the great amount of high risk prospects the Indians had last season with so many lower level prospects, they actually managed to have a solid year on the player development front.
Yes, players like right-handed pitcher Dillon Howard underwhelmed, outfielder LeVon Washington struggled with injuries again, and top starting pitching prospects left-hander Elvis Araujo and right-hander Felix Sterling were disappointing. But by the same token, there were several great stories with shortstop Dorssys Paulino establishing himself as a premium hitting prospect, and the emergence of second baseman Jose Ramirez and right-handed pitchers Shawn Armstrong, Cody Allen and Danny Salazar.
The farm system is still a work in progress, but it is a lot more established and stronger than it was at this time last year. Last year a great majority of the top prospects were at Single-A or below, but this year there is actually a better representation of talent in the upper levels. With a higher distribution of upside talent still in the lower levels this means there will still be a lot of volatility with the rankings in the system between now and next year. Also, as always some graduations could affect things as several of the players in the Top 20 could see time in Cleveland this year and lose their rookie status.
That volatility in the system had its effect on the 2013 prospect rankings as there will be several new faces in the Top 10 this year, let alone the Top 60. There are a few big names at the top of the list, but after that it gets much tougher to figure out as there are lots of unknowns with just about every player.
But that is the fun of following prospects. You don’t get caught up in the wins and losses of the teams in minor league baseball, but you track and follow the prospects to see who is improving and who is not, and which ones fail and which succeed. And considering all of the upside talent in the lower levels of the system and the upside talent beginning to emerge in the upper levels, this year promises to be yet another fun season to follow the Indians of tomorrow.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
The strength of the Indians’ farm system continues to be the good amount of upside talent they have collected in the lower levels. Some of their best prospects like right-handed pitcher Mitch Brown, catcher Eric Haase, shortstop Francisco Lindor, left-handed pitcher Luis Lugo, shortstop Dorssys Paulino, second baseman Jose Ramirez, outfielder Anthony Santander, and outfielder Jordan Smith will all be in Single-A for most if not all of the season.
As with any season, a large chunk of the upside players at the Single-A or below level will struggle and not pan out as hoped. This is why quantity often outweighs quality as the more prospects with upside you have in the lower levels, the more chances you have of seeing a considerable amount of guys persevere and become legitimate prospects.
Unlike last year, the Indians are finally starting to establish some prospects in the upper levels of the system. The likes of right-handed pitcher Cody Allen, right-handed pitcher Shawn Armstrong, left-handed pitcher Scott Barnes, right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer, left-handed pitcher Nick Hagadone, right-handed pitcher Trey Haley, left-handed pitcher T.J. House, shortstop Ronny Rodriguez, right-handed pitcher Danny Salazar, left-handed pitcher Giovanni Soto, and shortstop Tony Wolters are all expected to open the season at Double-A or above.
It is important to have balance in the system so good players continue to move into the system, up through it, and then transition to the big leagues. So while the lower levels are still stronger, things are starting to balance out in the upper levels, and with a good year of development and some luck along the way, perhaps going into the 2014 season they will have struck that balance. Until that balance is struck and they get more grade A and B prospects into the upper levels, their standing among other organizations with their “ranking” will continue to be low. It could continue to shift upward with the development of their lower level prospects and another strong draft.
Looking beyond levels and more specifically at what positions the Indians are strongest and weakest at, their strength still lies in middle of the diamond players that can play shortstop, second base, and center field. It actually grew into a bigger strength last year with the continued development of the established prospects at those positions like Francisco Lindor, Dorssys Paulino, Ronny Rodriguez, Tony Wolters, and others, but also with the emergence of some new players like Jose Ramirez, D’Vone McClure, and Anthony Santander. The Indians other strength lies in their right-handed relief pitching as they have tons of Major League quality arms and depth with the likes of Cody Allen, Shawn Armstrong, Rob Bryson, Matt Langwell, Chen-Chang Lee, Fabio Martinez, and Bryce Stowell, and even Trey Haley if they keep him as a reliever.
The biggest weakness of the Indians’ system continues to be their lack of starting pitching prospects. They added a big time prospect in right-hander Trevor Bauer in an offseason trade, and right-hander Danny Salazar emerged as a legit prospect last season, but beyond them there are few high level pitching prospects. Sure, there are some interesting arms like left-handers T.J. House and Giovanni Soto, but even they are not sure-fire Major League starting pitching prospects and may find their way into the bullpen at some point. The Indians have drafted and signed a lot of interesting high upside arms over the past two years that have the potential to be impact starters, so it is imperative that a good amount of these arms live up to their promise and begin to solidify themselves as Major League potential starters this season.
Aside from the starting pitching issue, the Indians also lack very many options at first base and catcher. There are certainly some interesting prospects at those positions like Jesus Aguilar, Alex Monsalve and even newcomer Yan Gomes, but the Indians lack prospect depth at those positions. There are some interesting catching options the Indians are excited about like Eric Haase, Yoiber Marquina, and Francisco Mejia, but all of them are a ways away and still have not firmly established themselves as prospects.
Who are some breakout candidates?
Last season players like Jose Ramirez, Cody Allen, Danny Salazar, and Shawn Armstrong really broke through as legit prospects. I predicted several of those guys to breakout as prospects last year, though whiffed on one or two as well. This season it is still tough to single out a few breakout candidates since the system is still very raw and young, but there are some guys to keep an eye on who may not be Top 20 or so prospects at the moment but are on the rise and could move up significantly by the end of the season. Such players include infielder Claudio Bautista, right-handed pitcher Luis DeJesus, right-handed pitcher Cody Penny, catcher/first baseman Nelson Rodriguez, and outfielder Logan Vick.
In years past I listed potential bust candidates, but this year I am going to refrain from doing so. This is not because I hit on all four of my bust predictions last year (Elvis Araujo, Luigi Rodriguez, Felix Sterling, and LeVon Washington), but simply because I am having a hard time finding a true bust option. Also, out of respect for the players getting ready for another big season I am just not sure it is the right thing to even write about at the moment. There are certainly several players out there with a lot to prove this year, such as Austin Adams, Dillon Howard, Chen-Chang Lee, Matt Packer, LeVon Washington, and so on. Obviously, there are always a few higher ranked players that come with greater risk because they may be very raw, young, or injury prone, and the system is still very young so the potential for busts is high. But for this year I am going to abstain from listing any busts.
The criteria used to determine who is eligible for the 2013 prospect ranking is fairly simple.
Major League service time is not considered, and instead the only requirement is that a player still have rookie status with less than 50.0 innings pitched or with less than 130 at bats in their Major League career. This means players like Cody Allen, Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes are still considered rookies, and thus, still eligible to be ranked (and they will be).
The other exception from the ranking is players that have yet to play stateside are not ranked, which is basically those players that played the 2012 season in the Dominican Summer League or were a 2012 international signing that has yet to play. Until these Latin American players come stateside where I have an opportunity to see them more and also get opinions from others in the industry on them, I leave them out or the overall listing. That having been said, as always, in the new book I will publish in the next month, I will have a Latin American Top 15 or Top 20 listing that will rank those players not eligible for the overall ranking list.
The information for these scouting reports comes from my numerous conversations over the past year with players, scouts, coaches, front office personnel, and so on. I typically talk to “someone” every day about a prospect or two in the system, so all of this information is obtained firsthand.
The way someone puts together their ranking of players can vary from scout to scout, executive to executive, and from writer to writer. Some people rate prospects purely on results (stats), some on standing (class level/age), and some purely on potential (projection), but I try to incorporate all three of those rating styles and use a balanced approach in order to consider all possible information to make the best possible decision on where to place a player in my ranking. I generally do favor projection over performance, so younger players with upside will always get the higher nod versus an older player with great stats but a limited ceiling.
It also should be noted that different positions rank well while others do not. Starting pitchers always have much, much more upside than relief pitchers, so they get the priority when ranking players. The relief pitchers often do not rank in the Top 40-50 unless they have a chance to be a dominant backend reliever in the Major Leagues. This also holds true for players that are utility players or reserve players as they will not rank well because of their limited role. Starting pitchers and players up the middle at catcher, middle infield, and center field are typically always valued the highest among prospects, then the rest of the position players, and then the relievers.
Also, older players in the upper levels that maybe have performed well but have plateaued as a prospect will not rank well. The rankings are not about who is closer to the big leagues as I base them solely on what I think the player becomes and what their true Major League value/potential is to the organization. For example, someone that may be a solid performer over their career, will be at Triple-A, and may be on the 40-man roster may not necessarily be ranked as well as a young prospect in Low-A that maybe has been inconsistent with their performance but has the tools to be an impact player. It is mostly about the potential to impact a Major League roster rather than about who are the best prospects that can “get there”.
In the end, the rankings are arbitrary. I always tell people not to take each and every ranking exactly for what it is, but instead as a guideline that shows what players to keep an eye out for, who has more or less value than you thought, and how all the players stack up against one another.
As always, thanks for the continued support with the site and for reading. Enjoy the new reports and most of all I wish all the players the best of luck this upcoming season.
Up Next: The countdown begins tomorrow with #60.
Note: For those wondering, the new 2013 prospect book is coming along and will be bigger and better than ever. I will have a more formal update on it soon, but it should be available again in early February.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2013 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Only things that get me through the winter.
Luigi had a solid season last year....didn't make the big strides as hoped, but still worked through some things and had a positive year. Defense to me is still a concern with him.