20. T.J. McFarland, LHP
Acquired: 4th round draft pick in 2007
2011 Stats: 9-10, 3.74 ERA with 115 K and 51 BB in 149 1/3 innings pitched between high-A and AA
Scouting Report: Drafted out of a California high school in June of 2007, McFarland is a ground ball connoisseur. He doesn’t have overpowering strikeout stuff, but does a tremendous job pitching to contact and excels at letting hitters get themselves out. He probably has the best sinker in the system outside of the major league club, a two-seam, sinking fastball that consistently sits in the low-90’s. The pitch helped him post an outstanding 2.49 GO/AO average last year in his 149 1/3 innings of work between Kinston and Akron. In addition to the sinking fastball, McFarland throws a slider and a changeup. The slider is further along than the changeup at this point, but both pitches project to be at least average. McFarland commands his fastball well within the strikezone, keeping it down and consequently keeping the ball in the ballpark. He faced 638 hitters last year, and allowed just 11 home runs.
Coming up through the system, McFarland has been remarkably consistent thus far in his career. In his three full years in the system, he’s posted ERAs of 3.58, 3.38 and 3.74, K/9 rates of 6.3, 6.7 and 6.9 and BB/9 rates of 3.1, 2.9 and 3.1. Clearly, moving up the rungs of the organizational ladder has yet to phase McFarland. After his solid 2011 campaign, McFarland was selected as the Indians starting pitcher in the elite Arizona Fall League. The AFL has always been known as more of a hitters league, and I thought there was a chance that McFarland could struggle in the thin desert air against some of the top hitters in minor league baseball. Those fears proved to be completely unfounded, as McFarland went 3-0 with a 3.18 ERA in his 8 appearances for the Phoenix Desert Dogs. He threw 28 1/3 innings, striking out 22 and walking 13. He put up a predictably solid 2.11 GO/AO rate, and gave up more than 2 ER in just one of his starts. It was an impressive performance for the 22-year old, similar to the solid AFL campaign that propelled Scott Barnes to his breakout 2011 season with the Columbus Clippers.
McFarland is an easy guy to like. He’s a smart pitcher who does a nice job keeping hitters off balance, and gets consistently solid results despite not having overwhelming stuff. He’s a tremendous competitor who really bears down and is able to come up with big pitches in tough situations. He won’t turn 23 until midway through the 2012 season, and should pitch most if not all of the year at AAA Columbus. He’s ahead of schedule in his rise through the organization, so there’s really no reason to push him too aggressively this season. He’s not going to be a dominant strikeout guy at the front of a rotation, but can definitely be a Jake Westbrook type of guy who goes out and gives you 200 solid innings, keeping the ball in the ballpark and giving the club a chance to win every time out. You won’t find him on any of the national writer’s top-100 prospects lists, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a useful piece of a big league team down the road.
Glass Half-Full: A workhorse middle of the rotation starter
Glass Half-Empty: A workhorse back of the rotation starter
19. Trey Haley, RHP
Acquired: 2nd round pick in 2008
2011 Stats: 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA, 44 K and 25 BB in 41 1/3 IP between low-A Lake County and high-A Kinston
Scouting Report: Haley has one of the best arms in the system, as he has one of the rare arms that can touch triple-digits. The two-seamer sits comfortably in the mid-90s, and in addition to the plus-plus velocity it has good movement as well, with nice arm-side run. It’s a major league quality pitch right now, and the 21-year old Haley can get plenty of outs at the minor league level pitching off nothing but the fastball. It’s easy velocity from a clean, easily repeatable delivery. Haley is a tall kid but still has some filling out to do, and there’s a possibility that he could pick up even more velocity as he adds strength. He also throws a four-seam fastball that gives him a different look, but it doesn’t have as much movement as the two-seamer.
In addition to the plus heater, Haley has an above-average curveball that flashes plus and is developing a changeup. The curve is almost 20 MPH slower than his fastball, and has good break and depth. The change is behind the curve in terms of development, and he’s still trying to get a feel for the pitch. It’s something he just needs to throw more of, which is tough because he can get hitters out with just his fastball/curveball combo. Developing that changeup though will be key in his development, and without it he’s not going to be able to remain in the rotation.
Haley had some injury issues early last year, pulling his groin muscle in spring training and dealing with the injury off and on for most of the season. Because of the slow start to his season, Haley worked almost exclusively out of the bullpen in 2011. His already-outstanding stuff played up even more in the shorter stints, and he really could be an impact reliever. However, you don’t put stuff like that into the bullpen until you have to, so Haley will be given every opportunity to start. He’s had some control issues in the past, issuing 183 walks in 240 1/3 career innings pitched. If he can harness his stuff and command his fastball more effectively, he’s a starter for sure. If not, he’ll be an impact reliever down the road. He’ll likely start off back in the Carolina League with the Mudcats, but look for him to move quickly to Akron if he’s healthy.
Glass Half-Full: A #2 starter in the show
Glass Half-Empty: A power closer with no changeup
18. Dorssys Paulino, SS
Acquired: International Free Agent in 2011
2011 Stats: DNP
Scouting Report: Paulino was the Indians’ big money signing out of the Dominican Republic in the last year that big money signings in the international market will be an option. He was seen as one of the top players in the Dominican, and the Indians shelled out $1.1 million to bring him stateside. His bat is considered his main tool, and he projects to have average to above-average power and a plus hit tool.
Paulino’s defense is solid, but there are questions as to whether he’ll be able to stick at SS in the long term. Even if he can’t, his bat will play at 2B or 3B, so a position change won’t degrade his prospect standing too much. He has good speed, a strong arm, and good baseball instincts. He’s also extremely young and extremely raw, and probably won’t play anywhere but the complex leagues in 2012. Paulino is obviously one of the players I’ve never seen in person, and I’m really looking forward to getting a look at him this spring in Goodyear.
Glass Half-Full: He could be an all-star infielder
Glass Half-Empty: He could never play above AA
17. Jake Lowery, C
Acquired: 4th round pick in 2011
2011 Stats: .245/.377/.415 with 6 HR and 43 RBI in 29 games for Mahoning Valley
Scouting Report: Lowery was the Johnny Bench Award winner coming out of James Madison University in Virginia, given to the nation’s top collegiate catcher. He put up huge numbers at JMU last year, hitting .359 with 24 HR and 91 RBI. The number that really stands out there is the 24 HR in a year when homers were down across the board with the new bats in college. He was voted as the top defensive catcher in the Colonial League by opposing coaches, but defense is not seen as his strong suit. He has impressive power from the left side, an average hit tool and a strong arm. He’s considered an offense-oriented catcher who needs to make some strides defensively if he’s going to be a starter in the major leagues.
Lowery signed early enough to get some significant time with short-season Mahoning Valley last year. Hitting mostly in the cleanup spot, Lowery went for a line of .245/.377/.415 with 6 HR and 43 RBI in 69 games. That line is a little deceiving though, as Lowery seemed to wear down over the long season. Remember, he was playing in 69 games AFTER his lengthy college season, and at the physically demanding position of catcher. He had an OPS of .951 in June, before falling to .766 in July and then down to .715 in August. He hit 5 of his 6 home runs in June and July, and drove in 29 of his 43 runs in those first two months of the New York-Penn League season. He was named to the NYPL all-star team, and finished 3rd on the team in OPS. So while his numbers don’t jump off the page at you, there’s still an awful lot to like about his performance in his professional debut last season.
Lowery is a good athlete and has a good chance to improve behind the plate. He has a plus arm, and just needs to tighten up his mechanics a little to quicken his release and improve his footwork. Even if he turns into just an average defensive catcher, his bat should propel him to the show. Worst case, he’s an offense oriented backup. He will likely play most of 2012 in low-A Lake County, with a shot to move up to Carolina if he really lights up the Midwest League.
Glass Half-Full: An offense-oriented starting catcher
Glass Half-Empty: An offense-oriented backup catcher
16. Cord Phelps, 2B
Acquired: 3rd round pick in 2008
2011 Stats: .155/.241/.254 with 1 HR and 6 RBI in 71 AB for Cleveland; .294/.376/.434 with 14 HR and 63 RBI in 97 games with AAA Columbus
Scouting Report: Phelps got off to a good start for AAA Columbus in 2011, with 7 home runs and an OPS over .900 on June 1. In early June, Phelps was rewarded with a promotion to the big club to augment a struggling Orlando Cabrera at second base. Phelps struggled in inconsistent playing time, and other than a walk-off HR he didn’t do much to make his stay in Cleveland memorable. He struggled both at the plate and in the field, and ended up getting sent back down to Columbus after less than a month in Cleveland. Phelps ended up back in Cleveland when rosters expanded in September, but by then Jason Kipnis had moved in to his spot as the 2B of the future in Cleveland and Phelps’ playing time remained inconsistent and his struggles continued.
Phelps is a switch-hitter who loads his hands very low in his stance, and starts out a little hunched over at the plate. Because of that, he has a very level swing and the bat spends a lot of time in the hitting zone. This helps him barrel the ball consistently, and he has an above-average hit tool from both sides of the plate. He has gap power, and projects to be a guy who can hit 10-18 home runs over a full season. He has a solid approach and good on-base skills, and has been among the organizational leaders in walks over the past few years. In his 382 game minor league career, Phelps has a line of .288/.376/.434 with 28 HR and 192 RBI. He’s a below-average defender, but can play a passable 2B or 3B.
Despite his struggles at the big league level in 2011, I still think that Phelps can be a solid utility infielder in the show. He looked overwhelmed at times in 2011, but the raw talent and tools are still there. His path to a position with the Indians is pretty well blocked though, with Jason Kipnis firmly entrenched at 2B, Lonnie Chisenhall seemingly ready to take over at 3B, and Jason Donald already playing the role of utilityman. One thing that is playing in his favor is the fact that he’s a switch hitter, as the lefty-laden Indians could use another stick from the right side in the lineup or off the bench. Still, he’ll likely begin 2012 back in AAA Columbus, where he will bide his time until injury, ineffectiveness or a trade comes along.
Glass Half-Full: An offense-oriented utility guy at 2B and 3B
Glass Half-Empty: What we saw in 2011