S2S 2012 Team Prospect List: Cleveland Indians

With the S2S 2012 Top 100 Prospects List now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look at the future of each team. And that means team prospect lists!

Most minor league sites will do top-10s, top-15s, top-20s, or some other ranking. Last year, to be a bit different, the FanSided team prospect lists (which were done at Call to the Pen, since S2S didn’t exist), instead listed a team’s top prospect at each position (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OFs, 5 SPs, and 2 RPs). This year, we’re keeping that format, but also adding a “Best of the Rest” section that lists the top ten players beyond the positional rankings. That’s 25 players per system, if you’re counting.

Cleveland Indians

This is a tough system to write about because the cupboard is really, really bare.

When I’m doing these organizational pieces, I start off by compiling a worksheet of sorts including the top 45-60 prospects in that particular system. From there I create a depth chart by position and start to work through each spot until I settle on the top prospect for each of the 15 “starting” spots. Then I review the rest of the depth chart to find the next “best” ten to include.

In the Indians system I wound up with 47 players on my initial list. That’s a little light compare to the two other organizations I’ve covered (Reds and Cubs) but it’s not completely out of whack. Unfortunately, of those 47, 12 of them are relievers and 15 are starting pitchers. When 25% of your best prospects are already relegated to being bullpen options there’s a problem. Throw in the SPs and we’re looking at 57.4% of the initial working list coming from the pitching side, and the rotation options by and large aren’t all that impressive meaning most of those are going to wind up in relief roles as well.

When looking at the position players there are 2 spots with some depth; catcher, which boasts 5 of the 47 slots on my worksheet, and shortstop which is well represented by 6 players. If you’re going to have limited depth, those are probably the two spots you’d want but there’s very little beyond that. When I did the depth chart I had just 1 player staring back at me at 1B and 2B. I had two 3B but I was being really generous including one on my worksheet and just 5 OF candidates for the 3 starting spots.

The White Sox farm system continues to get panned as the worst in baseball, but the Indians – despite a very strong 2011 draft class – are right there in that conversation. Nathaniel, my S2S cohort-in-arms, is convinced Cleveland is the 30th best system in all of baseball and after putting this list together he might be right.

Position Player Upside: C+
Position Player Depth: C-
Pitching Upside: C
Pitching Depth: C+
System Grade: C

Catcher – Jake Lowery (21):  Chen and Lavisky get a bit more pub, but Lowery is the choice because he’s the best bet to stick behind the plate and has the best combination of on-base skills and bat of the 3. Lowery hit 0.245/.377/.415 with 23 2B, 6 HR in 69 games in the New York-Penn League. He also walked almost as often (54) as he struck out (56) making it a strong debut for the Indians 4th round selection out of the June draft. He put up some prodigious power numbers at James Madison University and has already shown the pop in his bat will carry over to professional baseball. His plate discipline is for real and with at least average power and above average arm strength he has a good chance to be at least a backup major league catcher.

First base – Jesus Aguilar (21):  He had little difficulty with the Midwest League pitching as he hit 27 2B and 19 HR in 95 games with Lake County. He also got his first taste of High-A and hit another 4 2B and 3 HR in 31 games with Kinston. Between the 2 stops he combined to hit 0.284/.359/.506 with 46 BB and 126 SO. At 6’3″ and 241 lbs he’s an imposing presence at the plate and as you’d expect given his size he can absolutely mash. Aguilar easily has the most power potential of anyone in this system. His plate discipline and defense are suspect but he did show some improvement with respect to the first item in the Carolina League as he drew 11 BB against 28 SO in 31 games. He carried those improvements into the AFL (11 BB/18 SO) and the Venezuelan Winter League (10 BB/16 SO).

Second base – Cord Phelps (24):  I’m a fan of Cord Phelps but to be honest right now I’m pretty happy he hit 0.155/.241/.254 in his 35 game audition with Cleveland. Why? Because he’s still 59 AB from losing his prospect status as a result of his struggles against MLB pitching, and if I couldn’t list Phelps here I would have to convert a SS to fill this slot. Over the last year and a half he’s hit 0.303/.380/.498 with 45 2B, 20 HR, 75 BB and 128 SO in 163 Triple-A games. He’s done all he can in the minors and deserves another chance at a major league job. Unfortunately that may need to come with another organization as Kipnis looks legit and should hold down 2B in Cleveland for the foreseeable future.

Third base – Robel Garcia (18):  Signed out of the Dominican Republic just before his 17th birthday, Cleveland dropped him into the Arizona League. Garcia struggled to make contact but showed impressive on-base capability (0.164/.328/.286). Getting a second crack at the league in 2011, he took a step forward hitting 0.284/.371/.544 with 23 BB and 50 SO. He also amassed 24 extra-base hits (10 2B, 8 3B, 6 HR) during the season. He’s a switch-hitter with some pop and some plate discipline which makes him an intriguing guy to watch, especially once he gets out of rookie ball.

Shortstop – Francisco Lindor (18):  Cleveland’s 1st round pick (8th overall) in the 2011 draft is far and away the team’s top prospect despite having just 20 PAs (0.316/.350/.316) of experience in the NYPL. That’s a statement both on Lindor’s quality as a prospect and also on the lack of  upper echelon talent in this system. Francisco just made it onto Nathaniel’s 2012 Top-100 at #98. The biggest plus for him is that he’s essentially a lock to stay at SS throughout his career and he has all the intangibles (instincts, work ethic, etc) that you want in a player and leader. Defensively he frequently draws the heady comparison to Omar Vizquel and figures to be a star in that facet of the game. Offensively he has a smooth swing from both sides and solid bat speed so if he can make consistent contact he should at least be a capable hitter.

Outfielder #1 - Luigi Rodriguez (19):  Yet another switch hitter to make this list, Luigi ascended to the Midwest League last season after hitting 0.379/.408/.579 in 25 games with the AZL Indians. He held his own with Lake County (0.250/.320/.311 in 34 G) but he has a lot of work ahead of him. Right now he’s more athlete and raw potential than anything else and needs to pack some weight on to his 5’11″ 160 pound frame. He has excellent speed but is still learning how to use it – both on the base paths and in the field. Luigi could become an everyday CF in time but there’s a lot of risk that he’ll never reach his ceiling.

Outfielder #2 – LeVon Washington (20):  Speaking of risk that a player will never reach their ceiling … LeVon Washington took a gamble when he elected not to sign with the Rays after they selected him 30th overall in the 2009 draft. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off as the Indians took him 55th overall the following year. It’s a shame because Tampa Bay would have been the perfect organization to develop his skill set. That’s not to say he won’t find his way in the Indians organization. It’s just sad when young men are given bad advice by agents and the people around them. Washington is a very gifted athlete with his standout speed being his best tool. He’s a patient hitter who draws his share of walks – 49 in 79 games with Lake County last season – but he also has trouble making contact at time as evidenced by his 0.218 BA and 89 SO. His arm is below average but he has the other tools to be a quality CF in time. That is assuming he starts making better contact.

Outfielder #3 – Bryson Myles (22):  The 3rd Indians 2011 draft pick to make this list, Myles had an outstanding debut. The team’s 6th round pick signed almost immediately and was sent to Mahoning Valley (A-). Once there he hit 0.302/.394/.401 with 20 SB, 24 BB and 32 SO in 50 games played. Though he’s built like a linebacker (5’11″ and 230 lbs), and had a chance to play that position for TCU, Myles instead opted to play JC baseball for 2 seasons before heading to Stephen F. Austin where he led all of Division I in SB with 50. Myles combines excellent speed with a solid approach at the plate, good strength and great instincts. He’s off the radar on most prospect lists but that could, and likely will, change quickly after the 2012 season wraps up.

Starting Pitcher #1 – RHP Dillon Howard (19): He’s one of only two SP prospects in the system with a chance to be more than a #3 starter and he’s yet to throw his first professional pitch. Drafted in the 2nd round (67th overall) he signed to a $1.85 bonus but that news came at the deadline so we’re still waiting to how his skills will translate to affiliated ball. He’s got a nearly ideal frame at 6’4″ and 210 lbs, a sinking fastball that sits 92-94 and reaches 96 and a pair of inconsistent secondary pitches – curveball and changeup. In addition to his stuff he has an advanced feel for pitching and profiles as a potential #2 starter if things develop smoothly. If he has a strong debut season he could easily surpass Lindor as the team’s top prospect at this time next year.

Starting Pitcher #2 – RHP Jake Sisco (20): If you’re keeping score – and I’m sure you are – Sisco is the 5th 2011 Indians draftee to make this list. As the team’s 3rd round selection Sisco, like Howard, has a chance to be a #2 starter. Jake features a 4 pitch mix (92-93 mph fastball, curveball, slider and changeup) with all of them having a chance to develop into plus offerings. After signing he got his feet wet in the Arizona League and threw 34.1 innings. The results weren’t great – 5.24 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 1.82 SO/BB – but there is definitely a lot of potential here and at 6’3″ and 200 lbs he’s got a perfect frame. All he needs to show is improved consistency and he will skyrocket up prospect lists and rankings.

By the way, if you are really paying attention you’ve noticed that 5 of Cleveland’s first 6 2011 selections have been mentioned in this article already. The one guy missing is college RHP Will Roberts (5th round). He didn’t make the cut but was in consideration for one of the final Best of the Rest spots.

Starting Pitcher #3 – RHP Felix Sterling (18): In 2010 Sterling had an impressive debut season – at age 17 – with a 3.16 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9 and 10.0 SO/9 in 51.1 AZL innings. 2011 wasn’t quite as sterling (clever I know) but was still pretty good considering he spent half of it as an 18-year old starter in the Midwest League. Between the AZL Indians and Lake County he finished with a 4.12 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9 and 8.8 SO/9 in 67.2 IP. Yet another prospect with a great pitcher’s frame (6’3″, 200 lbs) Felix has a low 90s fastball, a curve/slider that could become a plus offering and a changeup that needs more work just to get to average. He lost command and control pitching in A-ball but given his age, I’m giving him a mulligan for that. Cleveland has already pushed him aggressively so a return to Lake County would be the most logical next step. Right now I’d project his ceiling to be that of a #3 starter.

Starting Pitcher #4 – LHP Elvis Araujo (20):  He lost his 2009 season thanks to Tommy John surgery, but outside of that the 6’6″ 215 pound lefty has gotten good results. Araujo has a 2.70 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 in 126.2 career innings but only 6.2 of those have been above Rookie ball and those came in the NYPL at the end of last season. Signed out of Venezuela he throws in the low-90s with his fastball and has reportedly run it up as high as 96. His curveball/slider and changeup both lag well behind and need a lot of work. He has a #3 ceiling but he’s a long way from reaching that and I’m doubtful he’ll get there.

Starting Pitcher #5 – LHP Scott Barnes (24):  An 8th round pick of the Giants in the 2008 draft, Barnes was traded to the Indians on July 27th, 2009 in exchange for Ryan Garko. He’s easily the most major league ready starter of the options on this list. Of course if he had only reached High-A that statement would still be true … Barnes spent the bulk of 2011 pitching with Columbus (AAA) finishing with a 3.38 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9 and 9.2 SO/9 in 88.0 IP. His season was cut short when he tore the ACL in his knee on July 10th. He features a fastball that sits around 90 mph with excellent life and complements that with a changeup and slider which both have some potential. He should be fully healthy and ready to go for spring training and is a potential #4/#5 starter that could compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Relief Pitcher #1 – RHP Chen Lee (25):  2.40 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6.7 H/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 12.7 SO/9 in 71.1 innings pitched. That’s what Chen Lee did between Akron (AA) and Columbus (AAA) last season and that’s why he’s a good bet to have an impact in Cleveland at some point during the 2012 season. He projects as a set-up man long term and gives hitters a different look with a low arm slot and deceptive delivery. Lee throws in the 92-93 mph range with his fastball and can reach back for a little more when he needs to. He’s generally in and around the lower half of the zone and had a 52.2% groundball rate last season. In addition to the fastball he also has a above-average to plus slider – which is his 2nd best – and can also mix in a splitter to keep hitters off balance.

Relief Pitcher #2 – LHP Nick Hagadone (26):  If you’re looking for more proof on the lackluster state of the Cleveland’s system, Baseball America ranked Hagadone #3 and Lee #4 in their Indians Top-10 and both are relievers (obviously). In 2011 Hagadone turned in the best walk rate of his minor league career (2.8 BB/9) and did so while pitching primarily in Triple-A for the first time. Between Akron and Columbus he sported a 2.79 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 3.50 SO/BB in 71.0 innings pitched. On September 1st he made his major league debut and wound up with a spot-on league average 100 ERA+ in 11.0 IP. With a mid-90s fastball that maxes out at 98 and an at-times plus slider he has the potential to be a late innings weapon. His control will dictate how big of a role he can assume with the Indians in 2012 but there’s little question he belongs in a big league bullpen.

Best of the Rest

After I wound up around 4,600 words on the Reds write-up I did, and given that I’m already pushing 2,600 words at this point, the mission here is to be more concise. Since brevity is my biggest weakness as a writer and given that you could rank any of the below guys – especially after Rodriguez and Wolters – in any order, I’m going to try to finish this up in quick-hitting, lightning-round style fashion.

  • #1) SS – Ronny Rodriguez (19):  Hit 0.246/.274/.449 with 28 2B, 11 HR and 10 SB in 98 games for Lake County. The average and OBP weren’t that great but it was his first full season in the minors. The 83-13 SO-to-BB is a bit of a concern but there’s no denying the tools and power-speed combination he possesses. A good bet to stick at SS, he’s young and has plenty of time to improve.
  • #2) SS – Tony Wolters (19):  He gets a lot more love than Rodriguez in current prospect ranking but he can’t match Ronny’s tools and overall talent. Wolters spent 2011 in the NYPL and finished with a 0.292/.385/.363 line while showing off good plate discipline (30 BB to 49 SO) and good speed (19 SB in 23 attempts). The downside, and the reason I rank him behind RR is Tony’s lack of power and the likliehood that he’s going to have to move off of SS with 2B the probable destination.
  • #3) RHP – Bryce Stowell (25):  2.09 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 4.9 H/9, 4.9 BB/9 and 13.3 SO/9 in 38.2 IP (24 G) between Mahoning Valley (2.0 IP), Lake County (17.1 IP) and Akron (19.1 IP).
  • #4) RHP – Cody Allen (23):  The team’s 23rd round pick in the 2011 draft, Allen sailed through 3 levels of the minors and got to a 4th pitching a single, solitary inning with Akron after signing. He finished with a combined 1.65 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 5.8 H/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 12.3 SO/9 in 54.2 IP (23 G).
  • #5) RHP – Enosil Tejeda (22):  2.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 5.6 H/9, 4.0 BB/9 and 15.1 SO/9 in 34.0 IP (28 G) with Mahoning Valley.
  • #6) C – Chun-Hsiu Chen (23):  Hit 0.262/.330/.451, 24 2B, 16 HR, 43 BB and 122 SO in 467 PA with Akron. To put it simply, Chen gets mixed reviews. Some see a potential everyday major league catcher, some see a solid backup and others see a player who won’t be able to stick at the position. After 4 seasons in the minor leagues, the lack of certainty about his potential role is a bit of a concern. Of greater concern for me is his SO-to-BB ratio that is going in the wrong direction.
  • #7) RHP – Paolo Espino (25):  2.77 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 7.6 H/9, 1.9 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 in 120.1 IP (34 G/10 GS) with Akron (81.0 IP) and Columbus (39.1 IP).
  • #8) RHP – Preston Guilmet (24): 2.16 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 6.6 H/9, 1.7 BB/9 and 9.3 SO/9 in 58.1 IP (52 G) with Kinston.
  • #9) RHP – Austin Adams (25):  3.77 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 9.7 H/9, 4.2 BB/9 and 8.7 SO/9 in 136.0 IP (26 GS) with Akron.
  • #10) C – Alex Lavisky (21):  Hit 0.203/.266/.354, 28 2B, 13 HR, 29 BB and 137 BB in 484 PA with Mahoning Valley (68 G) and Lake County (49 G). Lavisky was the catcher on the same high school team that featured highly touted pitcher, and eventual Pirates 2010 2nd round pick, Stetson Allie. As a result of Allie’s prominence as a pre-draft prospect, scouts got plenty of looks at Lavisky who wound up going to Cleveland in the 8th round of the same draft as his teammate. Considered to have good all-around ability, 2011 revealed issues with Alex’s swing, timing and plate discipline.

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The complete list of S2S 2012 Team Prospect Rankings can be found here.

For more on the Indians, check out Wahoo’s On First.

You can follow us on Twitter @Seedlings2Stars and yours truly @thebaseballfish. You can also keep up to date with all things S2S by liking our Facebook page.

Topics: Alex Lavisky, Austin Adams, Bryce Stowell, Bryson Myles, Chen Lee, Chun-Hsiu Chen, Cleveland Indians, Cody Allen, Cord Phelps, Dillon Howard, Elvis Araujo, Enosil Tejeda, Felix Sterling, Francisco Lindor, Jake Lowery, Jake Sisco, Jesus Aguilar, LeVon Washington, Luigi Rodriguez, Nick Hagadone, Paolo Espino, Preston Guilmet, Robel Garcia, Ronny Rodriguez, Scott Barnes, Tony Wolters

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