And so it begins. We kick of the 2012 countdown with a LOOGY, a couple of catchers, an outfielder that suffered an untimely injury, a starter who took a step back last season and a prospect who had fallen off the map proving that it was a little too early to write him off after all. As my boss at work likes to say; let's kick this pig.
51. Eric Berger, RHP
Acquired: 8th round pick in 2008
2011 Stats: 2-1 with a 4.04 ERA, 87 K and 36 BB in 71 1/3 IP between AA Akron and AAA Columbus
Scouting Report: If this were a moustache countdown, Berger would be at the top, not the bottom. But he’s not just a pretty face. The University of Arizona product has a chance to be a left specialist in the show, as he put up some really solid numbers in AA Akron last year. In 57 innings for the Aeros, Berger went 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA, striking out 67 and walking 22. His fastball sits in the low-90’s, and he has a big, sweeping 12/6 curveball to go along with it. He was a starter through the 2010 season, but after 2010 the Indians made the choice to go with him in a relief role in order to accelerate his timetable to the show. He’s going to play 2012 as a 26-year old, so he need a big year in AAA to put himself ahead of the plethora of relief options that the Indians have in the upper levels of their system.
Berger’s career numbers are solid, but not spectacular. He’s 19-16 in his 4 year career in the Indians organization, with 355 strikeouts and 180 BB in 365 2/2 innings pitched. His K/9 rate took a nice bump last year in the conversion to a full-time relief role, as he struck out more than a batter per inning at both AA and AAA Columbus. He was used against both righthanded and lefthanded batters, but his stuff was really more effective against southpaws. If he’s used a little more selectively, the results could be even better.
With as much success as Berger has had at AA, he’s struggled to have his stuff translate to the International League. His career AA ERA is 3.59 with 173 K and 90 BB in 178 innings pitched. But in AAA, his ERA balloons to 7.38. Part of that is usage, as he’s frequently been called up to Columbus to either make a spot start or pitch out of the bullpen on short notice. It’s awfully tough to settle into a routine when you’re driving down I-71 to pitch against hitters that you don’t even have a scouting report on. Berger has a good chance to pitch in the AAA bullpen full time this year, and he could establish himself as one of the better lefthanded relievers in the system.
Glass Half-Full: A LOOGY in the show, with an 80-grade moustache
Glass Half-Empty: AAA LOOGY, with an 80-grade moustache
50. Alex Monsalve, C
Acquired: International Free Agent in 2008
2011 Stats: .264/.313/.356 with 5 HR and 44 RBI in 117 games with low-A Lake County
Scouting Report: Monsalve is a big, strong catching prospect out of Venezuela. He played the 2011 season at just 19 years old, and showed lots of improvement from his 2010 season where he went just .220/.243/.313 for the Arizona League Indians. Monsalve made the Midwest League midseason all-star team, and finished 5th on the Captains in OPS among players with at least 50 Midwest League games. He still needs to work on his pitch recognition and approach, as he struck out 96 times last year against just 31 walks, but after a 4/52 ratio the season before, that was actually a nice improvement.
Monsalve has the raw tools to catch, as he is a good athlete has a solid arm. His actions are quick for his size, and he transfers and gets rid of the ball in a hurry. He needs to move better behind the plate and get experience working with a pitching staff, but the ability is there. More than anything, he just needs more reps behind the dish. He outplayed high draft pick and bonus baby Alex Lavisky in the Midwest League, despite being a year younger than the St. Ed’s product. So while Monsalve is raw, there’s a lot to like here. There’s a chance he ends up moving to 1B down the line, which would cause his prospect standing to take a bit of a hit because he’d really need to improve his bat to play at 1B.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Monsalve as the number 9 prospect in the entire organization. Obviously, I don’t like him THAT much, but Mayo usually puts his rankings together after talking to people inside each organization. He did have a solid season, but his OPS was just .669 and I don’t think his raw tools are as good as Lavisky’s or some of the other catchers in the organization. Still, he’s a guy to keep an eye on this year, and will likely open up at high-A Carolina. If he can follow up his 2011 with a better year in the Carolina League in 2012, we might have something here. Until then, I’m comfortable having Monsalve ranked where I have him.
Glass Half-Full: A solid backup or 2nd division starter
Glass Half-Empty: AAA backup
49. T.J. House, LHP
Acquired: 16th round pick in 2008
2011 Stats: 6-12, 5.19 ERA with 89 K and 66 BB in 130 IP for high-A Kinston
Scouting Report: House took a step backwards in his development last year, struggling to get outs while repeating high-A Kinston. He was originally an overslot signing out of Picayune High School in Mississippi, and was committed to Tulane before the Indians came in with a $750,000 bonus offer. He throws a fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. The fastball sits between 90 and 93 MPH and can touch 95. It comes from a 3/4 arm slot and has nice arm-side run that helps it tail away from righthanded hitters. The slider is his best secondary pitch, as it has outstanding late life and good, hard break. His changeup is an average pitch that flashes plus, and he added the curveball in 2010 to have something in his arsenal that will change the eye level of hitters and keep them honest.
House ran into trouble with his command last year in Kinston, seeing his walk rate rise and his strikeout rate fall. His home run rate also went up, as he gave up 12 after only allowing 7 in 2010. He was repeating the level, and I really expected a better season out of the young southpaw. He had some issues with his delivery, and the Kinston staff helped him work through and become a little more consistent. His last start of the year was one of his best, going 6 1/3 innings, giving up 2 runs and striking out 8 and walking 3. Hopefully, it is a sign of things to come for House. He should open 2012 in AA Akron, and needs to have a bounceback season to get back on the right track in becoming an important part of the organization going forward. He has the talent to be a middle of the rotation starter in the major leagues, he just needs to pitch up to his ability. I actually like House a lot, and think there’s a good chance he can put himself back in the upper half of the organizational rankings. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but reports are that House is in the best shape of his life heading into spring training this year, and if he can get off on the right foot in 2012, things could really take off for the young lefty.
Glass Half-Full: A middle of the rotation starter
Glass Half-Empty: A swingman out of the bullpen
48. Bo Greenwell, OF
Acquired: 6th round pick in 2007
2011 Stats: .282/.341/.411 with 4 HR, 29 RBI and 6 SB in 69 games between high-A Kinston and the Rookie League Arizona Indians
Scouting Report: Greenwell was having a nice season for the Kinston Indians last year, but it ended up getting sidetracked by injuries. He only ended up playing in 65 games for the K-Tribe, and was really locked in and hitting the ball hard when he went down with a broken bone in his hand after getting hit by a pitch. He was injured on June 12, and wasn’t back in the Carolina League until August 30. Missing basically two and a half months makes it pretty tough to put together a solid statistical season, but there was still plenty to like for Greenwell in 2011.
Despite not putting up amazing numbers, Greenwell had a good year from a scouting perspective. The former high school football player put on some weight, filling out what was a wiry strong frame. He has a much thicker lower half now than he did in 2010, in a good way. His lower body strength should add a considerable amount of pop to his game. He has a pretty lefthanded swing, uses his hands well and already engages his lower half well. He uses his hips well, and does a nice job barreling the ball. He projects to hit for a decent average and have at least average power down the road.
Greenwell is an outstanding athlete with good prospect pedigree. He’s the son of former Red Sox all-star Mike Greenwell, and has been around baseball all of his life. He turned down a full scholarship offer to play baseball at Miami to sign with the Indians out of his Florida high school. He has good speed and is an aggressive defender, but his arm is just fringe-average which will limit him to LF down the road. He’s an intelligent player who you can tell loves to be on the field, and he’s a real leader no matter what team he’s on. Greenwell is a tireless worker who you can count on getting the most out of his tools. He hit mostly out of the #3 hole for Kinston last year, so he was a guy that opposing pitchers really had to focus on and he didn’t have a chance to sneak up on anyone. He’s got great intangibles, and the sum of his parts will be greater that all of his tools taken separately. He’s probably stuck in LF long term defensively, but his bat profiles better in CF than it does in a corner OF position. Still, if the strength he added last season carries over to his production in 2012, Greenwell could hit enough to play LF after all. He might start back in high-A Carolina in 2012, but should move up to AA Akron quickly. Greenwell is a kid that you can’t help but like, and I’m really excited to see what he can do in AA Akron once he gets called up to the Eastern League.
Glass Half-Full: A LF who hits well out of the #2 hole
Glass Half-Empty: Trevor Crowe
47. Beau Mills, 1B
Acquired: 1st round pick in 2007
2011 Stats: .289/.347/.513 with 18 HR and 67 RBI in 96 games between AA Akron and AAA Columbus
Scouting Report: Most people were ready to write off the former 1st round draft pick as a non-prospect, myself included. He won the Carolina League MVP award with an .880 OPS in 2008, then struggled through two poor seasons in AA Akron in 2009-2010. He hit just .241/.312/.377 in 2010, and that was him repeating AA. He began 2011 injured, and was more or less a forgotten man when he made his debut for Akron in mid-May. A funny thing happened though…Mills started hitting. Credit the Indians coaching staff for tinkering with his swing and shortening his stride to improve his balance and timing, but Mills went for a .300/.358/.522 line with 11 HR and 49 RBI in 61 games for the Aeros. Still, this was his 3rd consecutive season in the Eastern League, so this wasn’t as much a breakout as it was Mills doing what he was supposed to do.
Mills was called up to AAA Columbus, and continued to hit, putting up a .269/.326/.496 line with 7 HR and 18 RBI in 35 International League games. Hitting can be contagious, and Mills’ success at Akron gave him the confidence to keep producing in Columbus. He’s still not a great athlete, he’s still not going to be a great defender, but at least he is back hitting again. Now, Mills is already 25 years old and will turn 26 in August, so time is starting to run out for him to make good on his prospect pedigree. He needs to build on last year’s season, and keep hitting for power in AAA Columbus this year. He’s always been a bat-only prospect, and his bat will be the only thing that can carry him to the big leagues. His approach and pitch recognition could still use a little work, as he had 32 walks against 59 strikeouts last year. But for a guy who I never even considered putting on this list last year, 2011 was a really encouraging season. He’s not a top rated guy anymore and isn’t someone I expect to be an option in Cleveland this season, but maybe, just maybe, there’s still something there.
Glass Half-Full: 2011 Beau Mills
Glass Half-Empty: 2010 Beau Mills
46. Roberto Perez, C
Acquired: 33rd round draft pick in 2008
2011 Stats: .225/.365/.310 with 2 HR and 30 RBI in 94 games for high-A Kinston
Scouting Report: It’s no secret to those who have read my work in the past that I’m a little biased towards catchers. It’s the position I’ve always played, from little league through college and now in adult leagues, and so I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for those players that willingly don the tools of ignorance. Of all of the catchers in the Indians organization, Roberto Perez is one of my favorites. He’s an outstanding defensive catcher, one of the best in all of minor league baseball. He has great catch and throw skills, recording consistent pop times in the sub-2 second range. I had him at 1.8 on a couple of throws last spring, which is outstanding. He moves well behind the plate, doing an excellent job blocking pitches in the dirt and keeping the ball in front of him. He calls a great game and does a nice job handling pitchers. Every pitcher in the organization that I’ve talked to that has thrown to Perez has raved about his ability behind the dish, and they all love throwing to him. He controls the opposing teams running game with his arm, and loves throwing behind runners if he notices them napping on the basepaths. Defensively, Perez simply has no weaknesses. He’s above-average to plus in every aspect that you can measure with your eyes or the stopwatch. There’s no doubt that Perez has the defensive chops to catch in the major leagues someday, if not right now.
As good as Perez is behind the plate, he still has his struggles at it. Perez posted an OPS of just .675 last year for Kinston, a number built largely on his .365 OBP. He has below average power, a below average hit tool and has shown very few signs that either of those tools will improve dramatically as he advances up the ladder. It’s not all gloom and doom at the dish for Perez though, as he does have a solid approach and knows how to take a walk. In 1049 career minor league plate appearances over 3 seasons, Perez has drawn 167 walks while striking out 218 times. He has a career OBP of .373, despite just a .242 batting average. So while he’ll never be an impact bat, he’s not completely useless at the plate either.
Glass Half-Full: Lou Marson, with more defense and less stick
Glass Half-Empty: Remember Wyatt Torregas?