It’s hard to believe, but there’s only one more Sunday between now and the MLB trade deadline. Indians fans, who by their very nature never agree on anything, unanimously agree that the team has to make a move in order to remain a serious contender for either the Central Division or one of the (new and improved) two AL wildcard spots. If you haven’t read Paulie’s midweek Tomahawks piece, stop what you’re doing right now, click here, read it and come back. Really, we’ll wait. Ready? Ok, now that you’ve indulged yourself with that outstanding trade deadline primer, let’s take a midseason look at the bullets that Chris Antonetti is going to have in his gun when trying to execute a deadline deal in the next 11 days or so. This won’t be a strict prospect ranking per se, as no 2012 draftees will be here, but more of a rough “pref list” as I would construct it if I were a rival GM dealing with the Indians in trade talks. Basically, I will be slightly more upset if the Indians trade the #24 player on this list that the #25 player, and so on. Whether or not the Indians end up making a deal is still up for debate, but if they do it will likely involve one or more players from this list.
25. Jared Goedert, 3B-Columbus Clippers
Goedert has never quite had a chance to hit major league pitching. He broke out with a huge power year in 2010, hitting 20 HR in 81 games for AAA Columbus. Going into the 2011 season, the Indians had holes at both 3B and 1B, Goedert’s primary defensive positions. He suffered an untimely oblique injury in spring training though, and only ended up playing in 87 minor league games in 2011. He hit 18 HR and posted an .858 OPS between Akron and Columbus, but he was doing it as a 26-year old against mostly younger competition. He began 2012 the same place he began 2010, right back in AA Akron. He’s worked his way up to AAA Columbus, and is hitting .340/.403/.543 with 14 HR and 54 RBI in 86 games between the two levels. He’s not going to headline any deals, but the 27-year old could be an intriguing throw-in for a team with an opening in 1B/3B/LF/DH. He’s a below-average defender, but if a team wants to give him a shot there’s a chance he can at least be a versatile power bat off the bench.
24. Tyler Sturdevant, RP-Columbus Clippers
A 27th round draft pick in 2009, Sturdevant has struck out an impressive 10.7 batters per 9 IP in his career. He threw 74 2/3 innings in 2011, mostly between Kinston and Akron, posting a 2.65 ERA and recording 82 K. He was slated to start 2012 in the Columbus bullpen, but the 26-year old suffered an arm injury in spring training and didn’t make his 2012 debut until June with high-A Carolina. He’s moved quickly to Columbus, but hasn’t had the same success in 2012 as he has in the past. He’s thrown 18 2/3 innings overall, striking out 15 and posting a 3.86 ERA. Sturdevant’s best pitch is his cutter, and he’s especially tough on righthanded hitters. He could be a useful part of a major league bullpen, but his trade value is diminished by his injury issues this year.
23. Juan Diaz, SS-Akron Aeros
Diaz spent some time in the majors with the Indians this year, going 4-15 with a walk and 5 K in 5 games with the Indians. He’s a just 23, a solid but unspectacular defender at short, but will probably never hit enough to be an everyday shortstop in the major leagues. He came over to the Indians in the Russell Branyan trade in 2010, and has a career OPS of .673 in 686 minor league games. He’s a big guy at 6’4”, 200lbs, and his size, youth and defensive ability make him an intriguing prospect.
22. Nick Weglarz, LF-Akron Aeros
Weglarz has long been one of my favorite players in the organization, but he just can’t seem to stay healthy. He played in just 128 games in the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined, having torn the meniscus in his knee in spring training prior to 2011. He’s healthy this year, but back in AA Akron again for the 4th season in a row. It seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s still just 24 years old. When he’s healthy, Weglarz can hit for power and get on base. He posted a .889 OPS in 50 games for AAA Columbus as a 22-year old back in 2010, and at that time it looked as though he was the Indians LF of the future. His inability to stay in the lineup has cost him though, and his .245/.350/.435 with 12 HR in Akron isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. He’s a classic change of scenery guy who could thrive in a new organization, as he’s clearly fallen out of favor with the current Indians regime.
21. Dorssys Paulino, SS-Arizona Indians
Paulino likely isn’t going anywhere, as the Indians made a $1.1 million investment in the 17-year old shortstop just last year. He projects to have a plus bat, although some scouts are projecting a move to 3B as he gets bigger and older. Even if he does move to 3B, the bat should play there, and that’s his main calling card. In his first professional experience, he’s hitting .337/.406/.596 with 3 HR, 6 doubles, 4 triples and 15 RBI in 21 games with the Arizona League Indians. I really like what I’ve seen with this kid, and I’m excited to see what he can do outside of the complex leagues.
20. Jeanmar Gomez, SP-Columbus Clippers
Gomez is more or less a known commodity at this point, which works both for and against the Indians in the trade market. Scouts have seen him get major league hitters out. Scouts have also seen him struggle to get major league hitters out. He went 4-7 with a 5.18 ERA in 13 starts for the Indians this year before being sent back down to AAA Columbus. He’s made 4 starts for the Clippers, striking out 22 and walking just 5 in 29 IP while putting up a 1.86 ERA. Do I think he’s figured things out with this trip to Columbus? No, no I do not. But he’s 24 and will be under club control for a long time, so he might be able to be used as a sweetner in a deal. Maybe a move to the NL would help.
19. Eric Berger, RP-Columbus Clippers
After playing around with a return to the rotation earlier in the year, the Indians moved Berger back to the bullpen where he has thrived. In 21 1/3 IP out of the pen, the lefthanded Berger has struck out 22, walked 7 and allowed just 4 ER. At the very least, he can be a LOOGY out of the bullpen with a glorious mustache. Best case, he’s a reliever effective against both lefties and righties with a glorious mustache. His platoon splits make him slightly more effective against same-siders, but so dramatically that he’ll be banished to the LOOGY role without a shot against righthanders. He’s pretty much limited to the bullpen role, as his ERA as a starter was 5.28 this year with the Clippers.
18. Bryce Stowell, RP-Akron Aeros
Bryce Stowell was Cody Allen before Cody Allen was Cody Allen. Stowell exploded onto the scene in 2010, striking out 102(!) in 67 1/3 innings between Kinston, Akron and Columbus. He dominated minor league hitters with a triple-digit fastball and a wipeout slider, posting a 2.14 ERA and becoming one of the top relief prospects not just in the Indians organization, but in all of baseball. He had some arm trouble in 2011, throwing just 38 2/3 IP but still striking out 57. He’s back in Akron here in 2012, but again suffering from some minor ailments that have restricted him to just 19 2/3 IP this year (32 K). If Stowell could stay on the mound, he’d be in Cleveland already. His stuff is tantalizing, although he no longer throws 100 MPH, but all the stuff in the world doesn’t do you any good if you’re sitting in street clothes in the stands because of arm trouble. He’s a tough guy to assign value to, because when he’s on the field, he’s lights-out. But he’s just not on the mound enough to be able to count on him as a reliable member of the organization long-term.
17. Thomas Neal, RF-Akron Aeros
Neal came over in the Orlando Cabrera trade from the San Francisco Giants organization last year. He’s got some pop, but isn’t a power hitter. He’s got some speed, but isn’t a burner. He has a good but not great arm, and an above-average hit tool. He’s 24 years old, and currently has a .299/.388/.453 line with 7 HR and 37 RBI in 79 AA games. That’s pretty much right in line with his career numbers of .296/.373/.462. We’ve already seen more or less what he’s worth straight up in the trade market; an old, defensively deficient infielder with poor plate discipline.
16. T.J. House, SP-Akron Aeros
House had a poor season in 2011, going 6-12 with a 5.19 ERA for high-A Kinston. He really worked hard in the offseason, and reported to Goodyear this spring 25 pounds lighter, and with a lower, more ¾ arm slot rather than the more over the top arm slot he featured in 2011. The adjustments have paid off in a big way, as House is 8-2 with a 3.39 ERA with 83 K in 111 2/3 IP between Carolina and Akron this year. The lefthander out of Picayune, Mississippi is just 22-years old and has #3 or #4 starter upside. He doesn’t miss a ton of bats, but does a nice job keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark.
15. Chun Chen, 1B-Akron Aeros
Chen was a full-time catcher until this year, when the Indians decided that his glove was lagging so far behind his bat that it was time for a position change to first base. As a catcher, Chen’s bat was elite. As a first baseman, it’s more in the slightly above-average range. For some reason, the move to 1B sapped Chen of his power. After hitting .262/.330/.451 with 16 HR in 113 games last season, he’s hitting .321/.409/.448 with 4 HR in 85 games this year. Some of his HR’s appear to have turned into doubles, as he is 2nd in the Eastern League with 26 two-baggers. It’s great to see the improvement in batting average and OBP, but the drop in power is concerning. If the doubles turn back into homers, he’s a legit prospect at first base. If not, he’s Casey Kotchman (.323 hitter in the minors) without the defense.
14. Tony Wolters, 2B-Carolina Mudcats
Wolters was the Indians 3rd round pick in 2010, and played all of the 2011 season in the short-season New York-Penn League after breaking a bone in his wrist during spring training. He had a solid season with the Scrappers, hitting .292/.385/.363 with a HR, 20 RBI, 19 SB and 50 runs scored in 69 games. The Indians decided to skip him over low-A Lake County and start him off in Carolina this year, and it took some time for Wolters to adjust to the advanced pitching. He hit just .130/.231/.159 in the month of April, and the assignment was looking like a mistake. But he bounced back to hit .291/.360/.408 in May, and his season line is all the way up to a respectable .266/.325/.379 with 3 HR and 41 RBI. Wolters doesn’t have a ton of power, but has a solid hit tool and is an above-average defender at 2B. He is a relentless worker on and off the field, with 80 grade #want so the overall package is better than the sum of his tools.
13. Compensation pick from MLB Competitive Balance Lottery
More on this at the end. Stay tuned.
12. Luigi Rodriguez, CF-Lake County Captains
Rodriguez is one of the fastest players in the Indians organization, and was moved from 2B to CF in 2010. He has top of the lineup skills, including a solid hit tool, plus speed and a good approach. He’s hitting .276/.344/.413 with 8 HR, 15 doubles and 18 stolen bases this season for the Captains. He has the ability to become an above-average defender in CF, but isn’t there yet. He still needs more experience in CF, more time reading line drives off the bat etc. He’s got more pop that you’d expect out of a guy his size, and is a switch hitter as well. Rodriguez is just 19 years old, and has significant upside, but he’s an awful long ways from the major leagues and a lot can happen between Lake County and Cleveland.
11. Jason Donald, 2B/3B-Columbus Clippers
Donald of course came over in the Cliff Lee trade from the Phillies, and hasn’t really lived up to his billing. He’s 27 years old, and in 145 career games in the major leagues, he’s hitting .265/.317/.368 with 11 HR and 36 RBI. That’s not great, but it’s not completely horrible either. I’m not sure what was wrong with Donald in his Cleveland stint this season, when he posted just a .435 OPS in 18 games. Sent down to Columbus, he’s playing fairly well with a .255/.351/.406 line, 4 HR and 23 RBI in 50 games with the Clippers. No one sees him as a future all-star, or even a first division starter in the majors. But he can still be a useful utility player for someone, and that still has some value.
10. Scott Barnes, RP-Columbus Clippers
Barnes was a starter throughout his career until this season, when the Indians decided to see how his stuff transitioned to the bullpen. He came over in 2009 from the Giants in exchange for Ryan Garko, and made his major league debut this season. He got knocked around with the big league club, giving up 9 ER on 12 hits and 7 BB in 10 IP out of the Indians bullpen. He did strike out 10 hitters, but that’s not enough when you’re giving up almost two baserunners per inning. He’s still just 24 years old, and as a reliever in Columbus he posted a 2.08 ERA in 17 1/3 IP with 21 K and 8 BB. He’s a tall, lanky guy with a deceptive motion, and he still could be a very productive member of a major league bullpen.
9. Cord Phelps, 2B-Columbus Clippers
Like Donald and Barnes, we’ve seen Phelps in the major leagues already, and the results have been less than pretty. That doesn’t mean he’ll never have a shot to play in the majors again though. He made his major league debut last season, and looked overwhelmed in limited, inconsistent playing time. He hit .155/.241/.254 with one HR in 71 at bats, and was sent back down to AAA Columbus in favor of Jason Kipnis pretty quickly. Phelps is pretty well blocked at both 2B and 3B in this organization with Kipnis and Chisenhall in front of him, so his future is either as a utility infielder or with another organization. He’s hitting .267/.357/.435 this year with the Clippers, which is actually below his .294/.376/.492 line from 2011. Just because he didn’t immediately come up and set the league on fire doesn’t mean he’ll never be at least an offense-oriented utility infielder for a major league team down the road.
8. Cody Allen, RP-Cleveland Indians
We’ve all seen what Allen can do now that he’s been called up to the Indians. He’s a power reliever who was drafted in the 23rd round just last year and is already in the majors. He flew through the system this year, starting off in high-A Carolina and stopping off in Akron and Columbus on his way to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. His fastball sits in the high-90’s, and he used it to strike out an impressive 53 hitters in 43 1/3 minor league innings this year. He’s 23 years old, and if he can pitch in Cleveland anything like he pitched in the minor leagues, he’ll be in the major leagues to stay.
7. T.J. McFarland, SP-Columbus Clippers
McFarland is a 23-year old lefty drafted out of an Illinois high school in the 4th round of the 2007 draft. He’s worked his way all the way up to AAA Columbus, and has a career minor league ERA of 3.75. He’s much more of a command and control guy than a thrower, sitting between 88-92 with his fastball. He has the best sinker in the Indians minor league system, and uses it to keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. He’s 12-5 overall this year between Akron and Columbus with a 3.72 ERA, 67 K and 31 BB in 113 2/3 IP. He’s given up just 4 HR this year, and has a 1.89 GO/AO ratio. He’s similar to a lefthanded Jake Westbrook, a guy who’s not going to strike out too many hitters but will induce a lot of doubleplay grounders to help make up for it. He’s a big, strong kid with no history of injuries and there’s little doubt he can stick in the starting rotation. He’s not going to be a #1 starter, but there’s a good chance that he’ll have a long and productive major league career.
6. Cory Kluber, SP-Columbus Clippers
Kluber came over from the Cardinals in exchange for Jake Westbrook back in 2010. He’s a 26-year old righty who’s basically done all he can do in the minors and is just waiting for an opportunity to see if he can get major league hitters out. Kluber struggled at AAA in 2011, going 7-11 with a 5.56 ERA in 27 starts. He’s been a much better pitcher in 2012, raising his K/9 rate (9.5), lowering his BB/9 rate (3.6) and by extension dropping his ERA to 3.69. The walk rate is still a little high, but it’s balanced by the high strikeout numbers. He’s a major league ready starter that can step right in to a big league rotation as soon as there’s an opening, whether it’s with the Indians or another organization after he’s dealt.
5. Zach McAllister, SP-Cleveland Indians
McAllister is another guy who’s made a big leap this season. He began 2012 in AAA Columbus, where he was the Clippers’ opening day starter. He went 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA, 52 K and 19 BB in 63 1/3 IP, and was called up to the big-league roster after Jenmar Gomez struggled in the Indians rotation. Since being called up to the show, McAllister has made 8 starts, and has been very effective. He’s 4-1 with a 3.17 ERA in 48 1/3 IP, and has struck out 46 while walking 14. I was never too high on McAllister coming up through the system because I thought he didn’t miss enough bats to be more than a back-end starter in the majors. He’s striking out more hitters this year than ever before though, and if he can maintain the higher K rate he can be a #3 or #4 starter in a big-league rotation.
4. Jesus Aguilar, 1B-Carolina Mudcats
Aguilar broke out with a big power season in 2011, hitting 23 homers and 30 doubles between Lake County and Kinston. He’s following that up with an even better year here in 2012, hitting .292/.384/.490 with 11 HR and 47 RBI, and starting at first base for the World Team in the 2012 Futures Game during all-star weekend. Aguilar’s raw power is undeniable, as the 6’3”, 260lb 1B puts on a show in batting practice. But there were questions about Aguilar’s defense and pure hitting ability coming into this season. Aguilar worked very hard on his defense during the offseason and spring training, and he’s worked his way from a future DH to a legitimate first baseman. He’s also hit at or around .300 all season, showing that he’s more than just a one-dimensional slugger. Aguilar has improved his prospect stock as much or more than any player in the Indians organization this season.
3. Ronny Rodriguez, SS-Carolina Mudcats
Rodriguez is a 20-year old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic that made his stateside debut last year with the Lake County Captains. He’s a toolsy, athletic guy who has the defensive chops to stick at SS long-term. He has above-average range at short, and a plus arm. He’s hitting .268/.303/.442 with 12 HR and 48 RBI for the Mudcats this season. He creates a nice problem to have, as he’s more or less “blocked” by the prospect behind him in the organization, Lake County’s Francisco Lindor. As things currently stand, Lindor is projected to be the better player down the road. That makes Rodriguez a trade chip, and his power/defense combination is going to be tempting for teams dealing with the Indians in trade talks.
2. Dillon Howard, RHP-Arizona Indians
Almost by default, Howard is the 2nd best prospect in the system right now. He dealt with some nagging injuries coming out of spring training, and didn’t make his professional debut until the complex leagues started up a few weeks ago. He’s made 5 appearances (4 starts) in the complex leagues, throwing 17 1/3 innings. He has a 6.75 ERA, 14 K and has walked 10 hitters. He’s a long ways from the major leagues, but has the frame and stuff that general managers like to dream on.
1.Francisco Lindor, SS-Lake County
Lindor is the only true blue-chip asset the Indians have outside of the major league roster. He was ranked #1 in my pre-season prospect rankings, and if he’s still healthy and in the organization next year, he’ll be #1 again. He’s the closest thing the Indians have to an “untouchable” asset, and the ONLY way he’d be involved in a deal would be if the Indians were getting a young, major league ready player back who would be under club control at a reasonable cost for a long time. If the Indians trade Lindor, there’s a distinct possibility that I will quit my job, go on a hunger strike and chainmyself to the Bob Feller statue outside of Progressive Field. There is a big, big gap between Lindor and Howard, as Lindor is a top-20 prospect in all of baseball right now and Howard is no where near the top-100.
So that’s my rough top-25 right now. Who’s not on that list that was in my pre-season top-25? Mostly guys who have suffered significant injury setbacks. Austin Adams had surgery to repair a partially torn labrum, which is pretty much the worst kind of surgery a pitcher can have. LeVon Washington started the season hot in Lake County, but suffered a torn tendon in his hip and hasn’t played since April. C.C. Lee went down with Tommy John surgery. Lee and Washington should be back next year easily enough, but team’s aren’t likely to want to deal for them with their current medical issues. Adams is a littler more concerning, but he’s scheduled to start throwing again in about 7 weeks so we’ll see if he can get back to his old 100 MPH self.
There is that matter of the Competitive Balance Lottery pick that we mentioned earlier in the article. In case you aren’t familiar with exactly what that is and where it came from, the lottery is part of the new CBA, and by rule the 10 teams with the lowest revenue and the 10 teams in the smallest MLB markets are entered for a chance to win one of 12 picks in next year's Rule 4 draft. The Indians, Royals, A's, Pirates, Padres, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers, Orioles, Diamondbacks and Cardinals were entered into the lottery, which MLB tells us is weighted towards teams' records in the previous season. I say "MLB tells us" because I've yet to see a really detailed description of how this lottery actually works.
So the first part of the lottery is held to divvy out six picks at the conclusion of the first round of the draft. Basically, the new "sandwich picks." After the first part of the lottery is conducted, any remaning teams who are given revenue sharing $$$ are added into the pool, and there's another lottery to determine who gets six picks after the end of the 2nd round of the draft. This year, only the Detroit Tigers were added into that pool. Wait...the Tigers are in this? The team with the $133 million opening day payroll in 2012? They get revenue sharing monies? I'm brimming with questions right now, but I digress.
After all was said and done, here's how it shook out; KC ($64 million payroll), Pittsburgh ($52 million), Arizona ($75 million), Baltimore ($84 million), Cincy ($88 million) and Miami ($102 million) were awarded the six picks after the first round. San Diego ($56 million), Cleveland ($65 million), Colorado ($81 million), Oakland ($53 million), Milwaukee ($98 million) and Detroit got the 2nd round picks. Tampa Bay ($63 million) and the Cardinals ($112 million) were the two organizations in the lottery who failed to recieve a pick.
The interesting thing about these picks is, for the first time in MLB history, they are eligible to be traded. That's right, MLB is slowly catching up to the fact that teams should be able to trade their own draft picks in return for other assets. The picks are only allowed to be dealt between now and July 31, or between opening day next year and the June Rule 4 draft. None of the picks will be involved in winter meetings deals. Still, this is a step in the right direction. These are pretty valuable assets, worth at least a 2nd-tier prospect, and they will give teams an opportunity to come together on a deal that might not have otherwise taken place. The pick and its accompanying slot $$ in the draft could really help sweeten a deal, especially for a team like the Indians with their farm system in the state that it is currently in.
It remains to be seen just how much the CBA really distributes talent to lower-revenue and small-market teams. We could look back on 2012 as a turning point in the little guys vs big guys world of professional baseball, the only major sport without a salary cap. Something tells me that while this will help a little, it's really just a drop in the bucket when it comes to leveling the playing field between the Boston/NY types and the Clevelands of the baseball world. The fact that Detroit got a pick in the lottery and small budget/small market Tampa Bay did not makes me think that we’re not quite there just yet.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the fact that Roberto Hernandez finally received his U.S. visa yesterday and returned to Cleveland. Hernandez is now facing a 3-week suspension by major league baseball, during which he’s eligible to pitch in the minor leagues. Hernandez was supposedly working out at the Indians facilities in the Dominican Republic, so he shouldn’t be too far away from being back in game shape. If this were a Disney movie, Hernandez would come back to the States free and clear of the mental stress associated with playing under another man’s identity, become the arm that the Indians so sorely need to stabilize their rotation, and pitch the team to the playoffs. This isn’t Hollywood though, so it remains to be seen just what, if anything, Hernandez is going to offer to the Indians this season. Hopefully we see shades of 2007 Fausto! once again, but I’m not foolish enough to expect that. It’s certainly not going to hurt, but it remains to be seen just how much it’s going to help. I’m glad that Hernandez, the U.S. government and major league baseball were finally able to come together to get him back to Cleveland, and hopefully he will make the most of this chance at redemption.