Day two of our prospect countdown takes a look at a crafty lefty, a righty recovering from Tommy John surgery, a 3B who can flat-out rake, a reliever who was a surprise add to the 40-man roster last year and (surprise!) another catcher with ties to Ohio...sort of. Some of these guys are real breakthrough candidates who could be in the top half of this list next season, or off the list altogether. Either way, they'll be fun to watch this season.
45. Mike Rayl, LHP
Acquired: 15th round pick in 2009
2011 Stats: 6-8 with a 3.42 ERA, 121 K and 26 BB in 123 2/3 IP for low-A Lake County and high-A Kinston
Scouting Report: Rayl was first drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 41st round of the 2008 draft. He didn’t sign, went back to Palm Beach Community College, and ended up being selected by the Indians in the 15th round the very next year. He’s more of a command and control lefty than an overpowering guy, despite his 6’5” frame. He sits mostly in the high-80’s with his fastball, and touches 92. In addition to the fastball, Rayl throws a changeup and a curveball. The curveball is a little further ahead of the changeup, but both pitches should be at least average.
Rayl isn’t going to go out there and pump his fastball past guys, so he needs to rely on command and control. Fastball location is key for Rayl, and when he’s keeping the ball down and away from hitters, he can be extremely effective. He’s shown that he’s a smart pitcher who can use his pitches effectively, and does a nice job mixing pitches to keep hitters off balance. Rayl fits the description of a “crafty lefty” to a T. He feels that he can throw any pitch at any time in any count, and loves to attack hitters. Despite the less than elite stuff, Rayl isn’t a nibbler who is afraid to challenge hitters; he only walked 26 people all of last season. He does a nice job limiting damage because he makes so few mistakes, walking few batters and not giving up many home runs (just 13 in 228 career innings pitched).
Rayl’s stuff plays up due to his clean delivery, intelligence, and superb command and control. He’s not going to be a big strikeout guy as he rises through the system, but can remain an effective starting pitcher. He’ll likely begin 2012 back in the Carolina League in the Mudcat’s rotation, and will have to continue to prove that he can be effective despite lacking a true plus pitch.
Glass Half-Full: A lefthanded Paul Byrd
Glass Half-Empty: Jeremy Sowers
44. Danny Salazar, RHP
Acquired: International free agent in 2006
2011 Stats: 0-2 with a 3.07 ERA, 18 K and 4 BB in 14 2/3 IP between the Arizona Summer League Indians and low-A Lake County
Scouting Report: Salazar was signed in 2006 out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year old. In addition to pitching, Salazar was a shortstop as a youngster in the Dominican, but the Indians made the call to make him a pitcher full-time right off the bat. He’s had some injury issues, with an elbow sprain in 2010 leading to Tommy John surgery, which limited him to just the 14+ innings of work prior to the end of the 2011 season. But he was able to make up some innings in both the instructional leagues as well as in the Panama Winter League.
Salazar throws a fastball, changeup and slider. Prior to the injury, his fastball sat between 89-92 MPH. But after the TJ surgery, he picked up several MPH on the pitch, sitting between 91-94 and even touching 98. It’s possible that the improvement came because Salazar was working in shorter stints to protect the surgically-repaired elbow, but it is not at all unheard of for players to pick up a little arm strength after having the procedure. If the uptick in velocity sticks, Salazar’s prospect status will take a nice little bump. His changeup is a little further along right now than his slider, but both pitches have a future grade of at least average.
Like Josh Tomlin and Austin Adams, the former shortstop Salazar is a good athlete who fields his position extremely well. The Indians added him to the 40-man roster this offseason, showing that they believe the young Dominican can be a healthy and valuable part of the organization going forward. He needs to continue to refine his secondary pitches and improve his fastball command in order to follow up on his successful 2011, and as a 22-year old he needs to move quickly through the organization. He should start 2012 in the high-A Carolina Mudcats rotation, and should be able to throw with no restrictions.
Glass Half-Full: Salazar remains healthy and effective in 2012
Glass Half-Empty: The elbow issues aren’t in the past after all
43. Jordan Smith, 3B
Acquired: 9th round pick in 2011
2011 Stats: .300/.403/.391 with 0 HR and 47 RBI in 65 games for short season Mahoning Valley
Scouting Report: Smith was selected last year out of Division II St. Cloud State, and signed early on in the process for $125,000. Smith went straight to the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers, and promptly started terrorizing the New York-Penn League pitchers. He finished in the top 6 in the league in hitting, OBP, RBI and doubles, putting together an impressive offensive season despite not even hitting a single home run. He exhibited an advance approach, walking 35 times against just 30 strikeouts, an impressive ratio for a Division II player in his first taste of professional baseball. Smith actually tailed off late in the season, as he hit .347 with a .912 OPS in July and just .258 with a .687 OPS in August. It was the longest season of Smith’s life, so if he adds some strength and improves his conditioning as a pro, he should hopefully become more consistent and not have that steep drop-off late in the season.
Smith has good size and strength, and should add some bulk to his frame as he develops and I expect some of those doubles to turn into home runs. He projects to have at least average power to go along with an above-average hit tool. Smith sprays line drives all over the ballpark, and does a really nice job barreling up the baseball. His overall profile as a hitter is not unlike Indians 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, just without quite as much upside as Chiz. He did show a pretty significant platoon split, putting up a .854 OPS against righthanded pitching and just a .634 OPS against lefties.
Smith’s defense at 3B has a ways to go, and it’s still very possible that he ends up in the outfield. He’s a good athlete and should be able to improve enough to be average at 3B, but if his defense continues to lag behind his offensive potential there’s a chance he will move back to OF. Either way, Smith’s bat should play if he can continue to make strides and adjust to professional pitching. Pitch recognition and approach are two things that are the most difficult to coach, so Smith already has a leg up there. He should begin 2012 at low-A Lake County in the difficult hitting environment of the Midwest League, so that will be a significant challenge for Smith. It will be interesting to see if he can keep hitting in a Captains uniform the way he did for the Scrappers.
Glass Half-Full: He develops a little power and stays at 3B defensively
Glass Half-Empty: The power doesn’t develop and he ends up as a slower Michael Brantley in LF
42. Alexander Perez, RHP
Acquired: International free agent in 2007
2011 Stats: DNP (injury)
Scouting Report: Perez didn’t pitch in any actual games last year after injuring his elbow in April of 2010 and getting Tommy John surgery later that spring. He made just two appearances for high-A Kinston in 2010 before having to be shut down. He did come back and make a few appearances in instructs, but that was it for his 2011 season. In his last full season, Perez went 6-6 with a 2.99 ERA, 107 K and 33 BB in 114 1/3 IP between Lake County and Kinston as a 19-year old in 2009. Those are really good numbers for a pitcher at that age, so it’s not like Perez has no professional track record to go on. He’s got a tall, projectable frame and should add some strength and pick up some more velocity as he matures.
Perez throws a fastball, curve, and changeup. The fastball is a two-seamer with some nice sink, and it sits between 89-92 MPH. It’s not at all unheard of for pitchers to pick up a couple of MPH on their fastball after TJ surgery, so there’s a good chance that Perez is throwing even harder than that right now. The curveball is his best secondary pitch, and some scouts were putting a future plus grade on it before his injury. His changeup is solid and could be above average as well, as it has good sink and late run down and away from righthanded hitters.
Perez will likely remain in Goodyear for extended spring training as there’s no reason to rush him to a full season affiliate until he proves that he’s 100%. Sticking around in warm, sunny Arizona is better for a pitcher’s health than frigid Lake County or even Carolina early in the year. In 221 career innings pitched from the Dominican Summer League up through high-A, Perez has 228 K, issued 64 BB and allowed just 18 HR. He’ll be almost 2 years removed from Tommy John this spring, and should get a chance to pitch in Carolina’s rotation before the all-star break. If his command is back and he continues to locate his fastball well, he could move quickly through the system. The key for his long-term development is the feel for his changeup and just staying healthy. He’s another guy who could be a lot higher on this list at this time next year.
Glass Half-Full: A #3 starter in a major league rotation
Glass Half-Empty: The TJ surgery doesn’t take and the elbow issues crop up again
41. Eric Haase, C
Acquired: 7th round pick in 2011
2011 Stats: .300/.364/.300 with 0 HR and 2 RBI in 4 games for the Rookie League Arizona Indians
Scouting Report: For the second consecutive year, the Indians took a prep catcher with Ohio ties early on in the Rule 4 draft and signed him to an overslot bonus. Like Alex Lavisky in 2010, Haase was given big bucks to sign, an overslot bonus of $580,000. Haase was considered the best high school player in all of Michigan, so he came very highly regarded. In case you’re still wondering what exactly I’m talking about when I say that Haase has Ohio ties, he was committed to play baseball for THE Ohio State Buckeyes, but the money was enough to sign him away from that commitment.
Haase was named Michigan’s “Mr. Baseball” after a senior year that saw him hit .495 with 14 home runs and 54 RBI. To give you an idea of the kind of athlete that the catcher is, he actually hit LEADOFF for his high school team. He won two state titles at Devine Child High School, and is considered an outstanding leader with great intangibles. Haase played some 3B and OF in high school, but the Indians drafted him to play catcher and that’s where they’re going to play him.
Haase really has the potential to be a 5-tool player down the road. He has above-average raw power, a plus hit tool, decent speed and a great arm. He’s an outstanding athlete who should develop into a fine defensive catcher, and will be no slouch with the stick either. Haase isn’t a big guy, and I’m interested to see how his body holds up to the rigors of catching a full season in the pros. It’s possible he gets a chance to start at Lake County, but much more likely that he’s held in extended spring training until short season Mahoning Valley starts up and he makes his 2012 debut in the New York-Penn League. Either way, he’s a guy I’m really excited to see this spring, and will be anxious to see how his first real exposure to pro pitching goes. He’s a real breakout candidate, and we could look back at this next year and laugh about how low I ranked him. Also, did I mention he was a Michigan kid who was ready to come down and go to Ohio State? That alone should make him a fan favorite!
Glass Half-Full: A catcher who can hit, run a little, and play solid defense
Glass Half-Empty: He goes back to Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor