This is part four of thirty in the Organizational Outlook series. For those of you interested in minor league baseball, and I know you are out there, keeping up with all the top players can be a tall task. This series will take you through each team in baseball and get you up to date on their top prospects.
Only two years ago, the Cleveland Indians farm system was ranked 3rd in all of baseball, loaded with potential impact talents throughout its top 10. But several promotions and one big trade later, the Indians are now the second worst system in the bigs according to Baseball America. The good news is that the last two drafts have replenished some of the top end talent that went missing. In fact, according to Keith Law (subscription), their top 10 prospects for the coming year will be, “full of 2012 draft picks”.
Of course Cleveland fans cannot be too upset about the system’s poor ratings, as they are right in the thick of the AL Central race . Much of this season’s success can be attributed to Jason Kipnis, the team’s number 2 prospect back in 2011. He and Asdrubal Cabrera lead almost every offensive category. Righty Ubaldo Jimenez has not been the rotation savior fans envisioned when Cleveland sent top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to Colorado at last year’s deadline, but neither of those two seem ready to contribute yet. With the Central very much up for grabs, having Jimenez still gives them a better chance to win now.
(All prospect rankings according to Baseball America.)
For Indians fans, everything starts with Francisco Lindor. A true shortstop prospect out of Montverde (FL) Academy, Lindor was the 8th overall selection in last year’s amateur draft. He is easily the team’s best prospect and their only representative in BA’s Top 100 list. Aside from his excellent physical tools, Lindor is lauded for his instincts on the field and has shown leadership ability in the past, captaining the U.S. 16-and-under team that won gold in 2009. Incredibly, Lindor has been switch hitting since he was 13 and scouts love his swing from both sides of the plate. Even more incredible is that the young shortstop is still just 18 years old and playing well in his first full season of professional ball. As the second-youngest player in the low-A Midwest League, Lindor is putting up a .285/.369/.410 line with 4 HR, 23 RBI, and 14 SB. To say that this is impressive at his age would be an understatement. He is truly one of the game’s elite prospects. Look for Lindor in this year’s Futures Game during All-Star weekend.
The Rest of the Top 10
Dillon Howard — RHP — 6’4″/210
One of the top prep arms in last year’s draft, a lackluster senior season and signability questions pushed Howard back to the 2nd round, where Cleveland gave him an over-slot deal. Howard apparently had a, “tired arm” in spring, leading Cleveland to hold him back in extended spring training. Armed with an excellent two-seam fastball that sits in the low 90′s, Howard is a potential top of the rotation starter who should see time at low-A Lake County at some point this year.
2012 (ExST): 3 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 1 K, 2 BB
Nick Hagadone — LHP — 6’5″/230
Hagadone was drafted back in 2007 by the Red Sox and came over in the Victor Martinez deal. Currently in the major league bullpen, he is thought to have late-inning reliever potential, largely because of a fastball that has reportedly touched 98 at times. Walks had been a problem, but he has made big strides in that area.
2012: 23 G, 4.91 ERA, 22 IP, 18 H, 23 K, 11 BB
Chen Lee — RHP — 5’11/175
The Indians signed Lee out of Taiwan in 2008 and he has been solid ever since. Scouts love the movement he gets on the fastball which tops out a 95. His low arm slot translates into lots of groundballs. A potential set-up man, Lee may get a chance in the big leagues at some point this year, but for now he is a AAA Columbus.
2012: 5 G, 2.57 ERA, 7 IP, 5 H, 8 K, 1 BB
Luigi Rodriguez — OF — B-T:S-R — 5’11″/160
An international free agent signing in 2009, Rodriguez is a speedy outfielder from the Dominican Republic. He was actually signed as a second-basemen, but his reported lack of defensive instincts made for a quick change to the outfield. Rodriguez is a switch-hitter with more doubles than home run power. He is at low-A Lake County this year.
2012: .285/.338/.415, 297 PA, 5 HR, 13 SB, 23 BB, 72 K
Zach McAllister — RHP — 6’6″/240
McAllister was once a highly regarded prospect for the Yankees before coming to Cleveland as a Player To Be Named Later in the Kerry Wood deal. His lack of a true out pitch is what really holds him back, as his secondary stuff is nothing special. He does, however, throw strikes with a sinking fastball that can touch 94. McAllister has made four starts in Cleveland this year, but is currently at AAA Columbus.
2012 (MLB): 1-1, 3.96 ERA, 25 IP, 25 H, 22 K, 6 BB
Tony Wolters — SS — B-T:L-R — 5’10″/165
Drafted as a shortstop, the 2010 3rd round pick has split his time between short and second base this season at high-A Carolina. Wolters lack of range may send him to second base full time in the future, especially as Lindor moves up. At the plate he is a contact first hitter who has decent gap power, but he has struggled so far this year.
2012: .226/.293/.329, 279 PA, 1 HR, 4 SB, 22 BB, 59 K
Austin Adams – RHP — 5’11″/185
Adams became one of the team’s top pitching prospects after signing as a 5th round pick in 2009 and even challenged for a big league roster spot this spring. Though he was ticketed for AAA, he went down with a shoulder injury in May and surgery will sideline him for the entire year. When healthy, he shows a big fastball that can touch 100 MPH but not much secondary stuff. Though he has pitched out of the rotation, some believe his future is as a reliever.
2011 (AA): 11-10, 3.77, 136 IP, 147 H, 131 K, 63 BB
Scott Barnes — LHP — 6’4″/185
Drafted back in 2008 as an 8th rounder, Barnes came to Cleveland from San Francisco a deal for Ryan Garko. He missed time last year with a torn ACL, but seems to be healthy as he works this year at AAA Columbus. The lefty flashes a fastball that can touch 96 as well as a decent starter. While some see a future reliever, others believe he can be a solid back end starter.
2012: 0-2, 3.73 ERA, 31.1 IP, 21 H, 35 K, 15 BB
*Zach Putnam was number 10 on Baseball America’s list, but he was traded to the Rockies in January.
As I noted earlier, this year’s draft was about replenishing the system and their Top 10 list will now be stocked with 2012 draftees. Though some, including Keith Law, had top pick Tyler Naquin as somewhat of a reach, the speedy outfielder is still likely their second best prospect behind Lindor. Their next three picks drew much higher reviews from scouts, as they took high school right-handers Mitch Brown and Kieran Lovegrove in addition to high school outfielder D’Vone McClure. Of the four, only McClure is yet to sign. If you are looking for late round gambles, some picks that caught my eye were Justin Garza and Cory Raley. Garza is a right-handed pitcher out of high school who can run the fastball up to 94. BA had him ranked 130 in their Top 500 but Cleveland took him at 803. Raley is a prep shortstop who is reportedly a great athlete. BA had him 158 in their pre-draft rankings and the Indians took him at 1013. Both Garza (Cal State Fullerton) and Raley (Texas A&M) figure to be tough signs. You can check out all of Cleveland’s draft picks right here.