Six hitting prospects who can help in Cleveland in 2014
Ramirez ready to contribute now while Aguilar and Moncrief could make waves midseason
In the recently completed 2014 IBI Top 50, the projection of each player contributed heavily to the final rankings. Clint Frazier has no chance of playing in Cleveland in 2014, yet the 2013 first round pick was ranked #2 (for very good reason).
But Cleveland has designs on contending for the playoffs again and will need to dip into the minor league ranks at some point in the season. With that in mind, here are six hitting prospects who can help the team in 2014 (the pitchers will run second in the near-future).
Note that these ranks are only for 2014. All that was considered was how each player could help the team this year.
Ready to help now
Jose Ramirez, INF
Ramirez, either you like him or you love him. He is a tiny guy, listed at 5'9", 165 pounds, but that has never held the 21-year-old back. He posted a .354/.403/.462 line as a 19-year-old in Low-A, skipped High-A to hold his own in Double-A Akron, and played a key bench role down the stretch for the major league team. Sure, Ramirez is set to start the season in the minors due to the presence of ace bench bat Mike Aviles, but if needed, Ramirez could help right now.
Given his .077 ISO and 25 extra base hits in 533 Double-A plate appearances, there is an argument that Ramirez needs to get stronger before he can fully impact at the major league level. But while Ramirez tackles that problem (which should happen, considering how he has figured everything else out in his short career really quickly), his severe aversion to strikeouts, speed, and strong defense will let him augment the team in Cleveland. He still needs refinement to his game (and polish at shortstop and third base if he is going to play there extensively), but no matter what, expect to see Ramirez wreaking havoc this year, whether he is in Columbus or Cleveland.
Ready to help midseason
Jesus Aguilar, 1B
Alright, let's talk about Aguilar without mentioning his RBI count in 2013… Wait… Oops.
More importantly than his RBI, Aguilar's adjustments to his swing mechanics that came about in early June set the first baseman on the course for the majors at some point this season. He posted a .292/.366/.462 line after June 4 and launched 22 home runs in 68 games in the winter league. Add Aguilar's now consistent hitting ability and power to his solid defense at first base and you have a player capable of being in the neighborhood of league-average.
League-average does not sound all that sexy, but if, say, Nick Swisher goes out with an injury, Cleveland will need someone reliable to fill in at first base/designated hitter (depending on how players like Carlos Santana slot in to the holes). Aguilar does not project to hit on the level of a Miguel Cabrera or Joey Votto -- the current gold standard of first basemen -- but teams do not win with only star-level players. Having someone like Aguilar post something in the range of 2.0 WAR goes a long way and the first baseman should be ready to do that midseason after a little time in Triple-A to start the year.
Tyler Holt, OF
Of every position player on this list, Holt is the only one not ranked in the top-10 (coming in at a cool #46). But while Holt does not profile to be an impact talent at the major league level, his contributions are also quite valuable in their own right.
In the field, few in the organization can rival his defensive prowess. Holt plays a great center field and started honing his skills in the corners late last year. His future is likely tied to an ability to backup each spot in the outfield and the early returns looked good. The bat is not quite there (he posted a .267/.338/.359 line in 133 games in Double-A Akron last year), but with his defense, he does not need to hit like Mike Trout to be valuable.
Cleveland is deep in outfielders right now and have higher profile players who would fill in better for long stretches (like the next guy on the list). But if the team is more in need of someone to fill in briefly and be a presence on defense, I could see someone like Holt getting the call.
Carlos Moncrief, OF
Given the rate at which Moncrief adapted to being an outfielder, maybe he could help the big league club today. In the four years since Moncrief converted from pitching, the outfielder has maintained a strong walk rate, limited his strikeouts, shown real plus power (he hit a home run off Orioles top prospect Kevin Gausman over the 60-foot batter's eye in Canal Park), solid range in the outfielder and an insanely big arm. Sure, the 25-year-old could use more seasoning in Triple-A, but given the way he's conquered everything put in front of him, he could probably help now if needed.
There is not an immediate need in the major league outfield thanks to the signing of David Murphy this offseason, but if any outfielders stumble (or if Bourn's injury proves to be more significant than a minor setback), Moncrief could come up and fill that hole. He is still about as raw as they come for a 25-year-old, but in the end, what he offers is the best outfield impact talent for 2014 Cleveland's minor league system has to offer. He has the tools, and with another year of putting them together, Moncrief could make waves midseason.
Long shots for late in the season
Francisco Lindor, SS
The calls for Lindor to replace Asdrubal Cabrera as the starting shortstop for the major league team continue to grow. But in all actuality, Lindor is not ready for that jump just yet. He only has 21 games under his belt at Double-A and is coming off of a season cut short due to back problems. Lindor has the tools to be a top tier shortstop in the majors and to reach that ceiling soon, but just regarding 2014, I am not convinced he will be up on Cleveland for anything other than a late-season callup (like Xander Bogaerts with Boston last year).
Though, used in that role, Lindor could be a benefit to the team. At the very least Lindor would offer good defense at shortstop (and feasibly at least competent defense at second and third base if needed in a utility role) and not embarrass himself at the plate. He may not be ready to take over full time on opening day, but Lindor could offer a shot in the arm late in the season if the team is in contention.
Tyler Naquin, OF
The perception of Naquin really suffers because Michael Wacha was selected four picks later. It is not Naquin's fault that Wacha's career took off immediately and unfairly raised the expectations of many regarding the soon-to-be-23-year-old outfielder.
In his first full professional season, Naquin posted an above-average .277/.345/.424 line in the High-A Carolina League, a notorious pitcher's league. The advanced college swing did show up in his .354 BABIP, a mark that probably does not need to be regressed back to league-average given Naquin's line drive tendencies. Sure the strikeouts came in bunches (22.5 percent in High-A), but overall, the results are encouraging one full season into Naquin's professional career.
His defense in center field is improving, and if he continues to progress through the year at Double-A, he may be able to add something off of the bench in September. Naquin feasibly could take a big step forward heading into 2014 knowing what to expect out of a professional season this time around. He knows how to hit, and if that ability translates into a little more contact and fewer strikeouts, his bat could help like a higher profile Matt Carson last year.
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Same thing with Aguilar: Long-term, I think he has the potential to be solid or even a bit better, but expecting to see that in 2014 is likely unrealistic, as he too has had no AAA time. That's what really these guys need: Time- let's hope the Indians' OF stays healthy and performs as we expect them to, or better.
The gist of what was meant was Holt will have a hard time cracking the roster for now because there isn't really a need for another outfielder. And if someone got hurt for a long stretch, a higher profile guy like Moncrief would fit better.