Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Prospect Stock Watch

For this iteration of the mid-week prospect report, I thought we’d take a look at five guys who exceeded my pre-season rankings in 2012 as well as five guys who fell short of expectations. I’m not talking about a guy who’s going to move from 11th to 9th this offseason, but guys who really had boom-or-bust seasons this year. I haven’t done my traditional offseason top-51 countdown yet, so this will serve as a primer for where you can expect certain players to end up on that list when it comes out closer to spring training. So here are ten (or so) guys that I was wrong about for one reason or another. We’ll start with the five guys who improved their prospect standing this season, and then move to five (or so) who are sliding backwards.

Jordan Smith, OF/INF: Drafted out of Division II St. Cloud State in Minnesota, Smith had a solid debut with the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2011 with a .300 batting average in 65 games. His power really never manifested itself in game conditions though, as Smith didn’t hit a single HR and posted just a .391 SLG in 243 AB with the Scrappers. The lack of power combined with his uncertain future defensively combined to have me rank him as the #43 prospect in the Indians system. The Indians decided that as third basemen go, Smith is a nice RF so he was transitioned full-time to the OF this season, but his bat took a big step forward in the difficult offensive environment of the low-A Midwest League. Playing in 116 games for the Lake County Captains, Smith put up a line of .316/.367/.453 with 9 HR, 23 2B, 7 3B and 74 RBI. He walked 35 times while striking out just 52, and played a respectable RF to boot. His smooth lefthanded swing is a thing of beauty, and looks remarkably similar to Lonnie Chisenhall’s when The Chiz was in Kinston. It still doesn’t generate a ton of loft, but he does a nice job barreling up the baseball and has developed at least gap power. His 9 HR were good for 3rd on the team (just 3 behind team leader Alex Lavisky), which helps put his seeming low power output into better context. In fact, only one player in the entire Midwest League hit more than 19 HR on the season, and Smith’s .820 OPS was good for 9th in the league. His bat should play, and he has the arm and athleticism for RF. He’ll rank much higher than #43 in a few months.

T.J. House, LHP: Coming off of a disappointing 2011 when he went 6-12 with a 5.19 ERA repeating high-A Kinston, I ranked House all the way down at the #49 spot in the organization. He had trouble repeating his mechanics and his command suffered, and everything just snowballed from there. I noted that House was reportedly in the best shape of his career heading into spring training in 2012, and that he was a prime candidate to bounce back with a strong performance. Well, House came through in a big way, as he went a combined 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA, 116 K and 50 BB in 149 1/3 IP between Carolina and Akron this year. House lost over 20lbs heading into spring training in 2012, and went back to more of a ¾ delivery similar to the one he used in high school down in Mississippi. His walk rate dropped, his K rate went up, his GO/AO ratio improved and he kept the ball in the ballpark, giving up 3 less HR in 19 1/3 more IP than in 2011. All in all, it was an impressive season for the young lefty, who turned 23 just a few weeks ago. House is pitching well in the elite Arizona Fall League right now, and will definitely rank at least 30 spots higher in my countdown this offseason.

Danny Salazar, RHP: Salazar pitched just 14 innings in 2011 after his 2010 was cut short by an elbow sprain that eventually resulted in Tommy John surgery. It’s always tough to rank a pitcher coming off a serious injury, and based on his limited track record and the fact that he’d just had TJ, I ended up ranking Salazar as the #44 prospect in the organization. The Indians played it extremely carefully with Salazar this year, having hin throw a total of 87 2/3 IP between Carolina and Akron. When he was on the mound though, Salazar was nothing short of outstanding. Running his fastball as high as 98 MPH, Salazar went 5-2 with a 2.36 ERA, recording 76 K and issuing 27 BB. The command for a young player coming off TJ is especially encouraging, as was his showing in AA Akron. Salazar was the best pitcher down the stretch for the Eastern League Champion Aeros, going 40- with a 1.85 ERA in his 6 starts in AA (34 IP). The kid gloves should be off for Salazar in 2013, and I’m really excited to see what he can do with a full season’s worth of starts. Salazar won’t turn 23 until January, and could be a badly-needed power righthanded arm who should stick in the rotation.

Tim Fedroff, OF: Looking at Fedroff’s 2011, I still saw a guy who was likely to be a 4th OF in the major leagues. He hit .308/.385/.408, but with just 3 HR in 132 games between Akron and Columbus. He was more of a “tweener,” not quite fast enough to play CF, not quite powerful enough for an OF corner. All the 25-year old OF did in 2012 was go out and have his best season as a professional, putting up an eye-popping .325/.393/.517 line with 9 HR and 32 RBI in 69 games for AAA Columbus after being promoted from AA Akron mid-season. Fedroff’s previous season high in HR was 4, so the 12 he hit between Akron and Columbus last season tripled that mark. Fedroff finished just short of the number of AB needed to qualify for the league leaders in the International League, but his .910 OPS would have been 2nd, .517 SLG would have been 3rd, and his .325 AVG would have led the entire league. Those numbers are impressive any way you slice it, and his road batting line was as good or better than his numbers in cozy Huntington Park. Fedroff couldn’t have picked a better time to have a career year, as the 25-year old is getting towards the age where he is going to have to produce at the major league level or be faced with the prospect of becoming a career minor league player. Fedroff should be in the mix for an OF job in spring training this year, and I really hope his stellar 2012 can carry over to Goodyear in 2013 and he can win a spot on the 25-man roster at the outset of the season.

Dorssys Paulino, SS: I didn’t really know what to expect out of Dorssys Paulino in 2012. He was the Indians big $$ signing out of the Dominican Republic last fall, commanding a $1.1 million bonus as a 16-year old infielder, and played the entire 2012 season at age 17. My budget here does not include scouting trips to the Dominican (unfortunately), so I had obviously never seen Paulino play baseball with my own eyes until after my rankings came out last March. I slotted him in at #17 based on some glowing scouting reports, but was uncomfortable ranking him any higher based on the simple fact that I’d never seen him even so much as pick up a baseball. Well, it turned out that the ranking was way too conservative, as Paulino put up video-game numbers as a 17-year old in the Arizona Summer League and is a no-doubt top 5 player in the organization right now. In 41 Arizona games this summer, Paulino hit a robust .355/.404/.610 with 6 HR, 14 2B, 6 3B and 9 stolen bases. Most impressively, he walked 15 times while striking out just 31, a pretty good ratio for a Dominican-born player in his first stateside action. Paulino moved up to Mahoning Valley at the end of 2012, and hit a respectable .271/.306/.407 with a HR and 8 RBI in 15 games with the Scrappers. There’s some doubt as to whether Paulino’s glove will play at SS long-term, but that’s a potential superstar with the bat no matter where he plays in the field. A lot can happen between Arizona and Cleveland, but Paulino’s success at such a young age is an extremely encouraging sign for his future in the organization.

So that's it for the good news. Now for some of the players who took a step backwards in 2012: 

Jake Lowery, C: I had high hopes for Lowery heading into 2012, and not just because of my well-documented affinity for catchers. Lowery won the Johnny Bench Award in college while at James Madison in 2011, given to the nation’s top collegiate catcher. The Indians snagged him in the 4th round of the draft that year, then sent him straight to the New York-Penn League to get his feet wet as a professional. Lowery got off to a hot start with the Scrappers and was named to the NYPL All-Star team, and finished with a .245/.377/.415 line with 6 HR in 29 games. I expected Lowery to build on that after an offseason to rest and recuperate, and ranked him as the #16 prospect in the Indians organization. The 2012 season was not kind to Lowery however, as he put up just a .640 OPS in 59 games with the high-A Carolina Mudcats before being sent down to low-A Lake County to try and rediscover his swing. Lowery continued to struggle in low-A initially, but got hot in the last month of the season to finish with a .248/.358/.504 line with 7 HR in 29 Midwest League games. Overall, he posted a .730 OPS between the two leagues, and caught 24 of 82 (29%) of would-be basestealers. Lowery turned 22 in July, and has both the talent and the mental toughness to bounce back from his sub-par 2012. But he’s not going to rank in the top-20 prospects in the organization again until he can prove that he can get it done both at and behind the plate for a full season and not just a month or two.

Felix Sterling, RHP: Sterling was one of the guys on my “must see” list coming into 2012. I was tantalized by the reports of a 6’3”, 18-year old righthander throwing consistently in the mid-90’s and ranked him as my #11 prospect in the org, saying that I thought he could develop into at least a #2 at the big-league level down the road. Sterling spent most of 2012 in low-A Lake County, where he struggled to an overall record of 4-8 with an ugly 6.58 ERA in 93 innings with the Captains. He struck out 71, but walked 40 and ended up allowing more than 1.5 baserunners per inning on average. Sent down to the complex leagues to find himself, Sterling pitched well, going 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA while striking out 31 and walking just 7 in 21 2/3 IP. Any hope that he’d turned a corner was dampened back in Lake County though, as Sterling gave up 13 hits and 8 ER in his final two appearances (4 IP) with the Captains. A National League scout that I talked to in June said that Sterling didn’t really impress him from a scouting standpoint either, remarking that he really didn’t have an effective secondary pitch to rely on so hitters were able to just sit on his fastball. The scout said that he had Sterling graded as a future reliever, and that plus the poor performance will leave him well short of the top-20 prospects in the organization this year.

Robel Garcia, INF: I ranked Garcia in the #12 spot on my list last year, thinking that his 2011 showing in the Arizona Summer League was a harbinger of an infielder with prodigious power and an advance approach. As a 17-year old in AZ, he hit 6 HR and drew 23 BB on his way to a .910 OPS in the complex leagues, and the Indians aggressively started him in the low-A Midwest League in 2012. His time with Lake County was rocky at best, as he hit just .210/.298/.309 with 3 HR in 63 games. Demoted to Mahoning Valley when the NYPL started up, Garcia fared little better, hitting .227/.312/.293 with no homers in 56 games for the Scrappers. I wasn’t the only one fooled by Garcia’s potential in 2012, as the lead minor league writer for Baseball Prospectus, Jason Parks, sums up his own feelings on Garcia here: 
 2012 was a disaster for the young prospect, first bombing in his full-season debut and then bombing after getting demoted to the short-season New York-Penn League. His bat was just very weak, both in the ability to make contact and in the ability to make hard contact. He still showed a plan at the plate, which is a positive we can take away from his season, but it’s hard to find many positives outside of the basic developmental steps that can occur in the face of poor production. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m still a fan of the hands and the juice in the bat, but I was clearly too quick on the prospect gun, and Garcia’s disappointing campaign left my prognostication exposed. Was I wrong? I’m not sure. But I wasn’t right about his immediate progression. Whoops.
Whoops is right. Hopefully he can bounce back in a big way in 2013, but 2012 was all but a lost season for the young Dominican infielder.
Dillon Howard, RHP: The Indians 2nd round pick in 2011 was paid like a 1st rounder, as the Indians signed Howard to a well-over slot bonus of $1.85 million. Showing a maturity beyond his years, the 19-year old Howard donated a portion of that bonus to the Milestones Autism Organization in Cleveland in honor of his younger brother, who has autism. He was seen as one of the more advanced prep arms in the 2011 draft, and projected by many as a 1st round pick. I tabbed him as the #2 prospect in the organization based on near-universal glowing scouting reports. Howard signed too late to pitch in 2011, and was expected to make his debut in the Midwest League sometime in early 2012. A couple of nagging spring training injuries slowed his timetable considerably, as the Indians were understandably cautions with their big $$ arm. Howard didn’t pitch in game situations until the complex leagues started up in 2012, and when he did finally get into game action, the results weren’t pretty. Howard appeared in 12 games in Arizona, going 1-7 with a 7.90(!) ERA. He recorded 35 strikeouts and issued 18 walks in 41 IP. Worse even than the numbers were the discouraging scouting reports, with ESPN’s Keith Law remarking that Howard, “was very disappointing, working at 87-90 mph, and his arm looked slow or tired. He was substantially better than that as an amateur.”  Time will tell whether Howard can bounce back, as talent like his does not simply vanish over the course of several months. A healthy spring training should catapult Howard to the Midwest League in early 2013, but 2012 was essentially a lost year for the young righthander.

Austin Adams/CC Lee/Jason Knapp, RHPs: These three are kind of a cop-out, as all three fell due to the same reason; injury to their respective throwing arms. Knapp hasn’t thrown a pitch in anger since 2010, but his elite potential still had me ranking him as the #20 guy in the org. The Indians an Knapp parted ways in 2012, and he’s an extreme long shot to ever pitch again. C.C. Lee went down with an elbow injury in spring training last year, so my #8 prospect never threw an official pitch in 2012. He still has potential as an elite reliever, especially against fellow righthanders, but who knows what he’ll be able to do in 2012. Austin Adams was my #4 guy last year, but a myriad of shoulder injuries kept him from even pitching in spring training. He’s recovering from surgery and will attempt to pitch in 2013, but shoulder injuries in pitchers terrify me, much more so than elbow injuries. If he can return to anything like his 2011 form, he’s still a top-5 guy in the org. But until I see evidence that he’s back pumping triple-digit heat, it will be tough to rank him in the top-10. 


Adam said...

Adams, Howard and Sterling hurt

Al Ciammaichella said...

Adams was the only one with a debilitating, season ending injury though. Howard's issues weren't even with his arm (fortunately). Sterling's stuff, even when healthy, was just really disappointing for me.