And then there were ten. From here on out, we're looking at players who are going to be counted on to fuel the Indians next "window of contention," whether that window cracks open in 2013 or beyond. One of the players that we're looking at today has already pitched at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. One should be there as early as 2014, injury permitting. We're also going to look at a pair of centerfielders from drastically different backgrounds; one a 1st round pick out of Texas A&M who is making the transition from RF, and one who was an infielder in the Dominican Republic until the Indians decided his athleticisim and speed would be of better use in CF. Finally, we'll break down the details on a Dominican SS/2B with surprising pop for his size, and who doesn't stop smiling as long as his feet are on a baseball diamond.
10. Cody Allen, RHP
Height/Weight: 6-1/220 lb.
Acquired: 23rd round pick in the 2011 MLB draft
2012 Stats: 0-1 with a 3.72 ERA, 27 K and 15 BB in 29 IP for Cleveland; 3-2 with 3 saves and a 1.87 ERA, 52 K and 9 BB in 43 1/3 IP between Carolina, Akron and Columbus.
Scouting Report: Selected in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft out of St. Petersburg College, Allen signed quickly and threw 54 2/3 innings with 75/14 K/BB across four levels in 2011, primarily in Mahoning Valley and Lake County. His meteoric rise through the system continued in 2012, as after making brief stops in Carolina (4 IP) and Akron (7 2/3 IP), he made 24 dominant appearances in Columbus (31 2/3 IP, 2.27 ERA, 35 K, 9 BB) before debuting in The Show about 13 months after he was drafted. Allen doesn’t have the ultimate ceiling of some of the guys that appear below him on this list, but he has an awfully high floor as he’s already reached the majors and proven to be effective against MLB hitters.
Allen’s primary pitch is his plus fastball, a mid-90’s offering that consistently misses bats. When he’s locating the pitch, he pitches ahead in the count and makes it very, very tough on hitters. He compliments the fastball with a hard, plus curveball that sits in the low to mid-80’s. When he’s working in the zone, he’s an extremely effective pitcher who should be able to pitch in the back end of a major league bullpen for a long time. He reminds me a lot of Vinnie Pestano; he’s a two-pitch guy who is fearless on the mound and just goes out and attacks hitters every time he’s on the bump.
Allen doesn’t really have a third pitch, and as such he doesn’t really have anything to change speeds or the eye level of the hitter. His curve is more of a slurve than a 12-6 offering, and while it’s effective there’s a chance hitters will start to hit him harder after he’s been around the league a few times. His command and control got a little sloppy when he reached the majors last year, as he walked 6 more hitters in his 29 innings in Cleveland than he did in 43 1/3 innings in the minors. Some of that can likely be put down to his inexperience in the pros, and I’d expect his control to improve in 2013. It bears monitoring, but I fully expect Allen to be an effective member of the Tribe bullpen in 2013 and beyond.
Glass half-full: An elite arm in the backend of a bullpen, whether he eventually sets up or closes
Glass half-empty: A solid setup arm in the back end of a bullpen
Height/Weight: 5-11/160 lb.
Acquired: International free agent in 2009
2012 Stats: .268/.338/.406 with 11 HR, 48 RBI and 24 SB in 117 games for Lake County.
Scouting Report: When he was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, Rodriguez was primarily a 2B. The Indians had him split time between 2B and the outfield in the Dominican Summer League back in 2010, but converted him full-time to an OF when he made the move stateside in 2011. When you watch Rodriguez play the game, it’s easy to see why the Indians wanted to take advantage of his athleticism in CF. He’s one of the fastest players in the organization, and a superior athlete. He can make some spectacular plays in the outfield, but he’s young, raw and can still look lost at times.
Rodriguez has surprising pop for his size, but will probably top out at average power. His hit tool is below average right now, as he still has a lot of swing and miss in his game (133 K’s last year). He needs to improve his pitch selection and recognition, as he still struggles against offspeed stuff. He did draw 50 walks last year, but with his bat profiling as a leadoff hitter it would be nice to see that number continue to climb as he gets more at-bats against advanced pitching. As a switch hitter he’s much better from the left side, having put up a .275/.356/.413 line as opposed to a .243/.272/.383 line from the right side of the plate. There’s some doubt as to whether Rodriguez’s overall skills will improve with experience, but the raw tools are all there so he’s going to get every opportunity to succeed. His speed could be a weapon on the basepaths, but he still needs to work on reading pitchers and getting better jumps. I’d like to see him try and steal more next year even if his success rate isn’t great, because that’s really the only way he’s going to get better.
Defensively, Rodriguez is tantalizingly inconsistent. He has plus speed and covers a ton of ground in CF. He goes back on the ball extremely well and does a nice job running down line drives in the gaps. His arm is average but adequate, but it will never be a weapon like Tyler Naquin or Carlos Moncrief. He still has trouble with reads on some balls off the bat, especially line drives hit right at him which can be the toughest for a CF to get a read on. Like with the bat, the inexperience sometimes shines through but all of the raw tools are there to project a future CF, but he needs more reps in order to turn that projection into reality.
Reps, reps reps. That’s the story for Luigi Rodriguez. He’ll likely play all of 2013 in Carolina, which is a challenging environment for a 20-year old. The triple slash line is far less important that the potential improvement in his overall approach and defensive ability. If he posts a sub-.700 OPS but makes strides in his tools from April to September, then it will be a successful season for the young CF. Look past the stats to the raw performance with Rodriguez, because experience and improvement are what we should be looking for in 2013.
Glass half-full: A 1st division, leadoff hitting CF
Glass half-empty: Never fixes his approach and tops out at AAA
Height/Weight: 6-2/175 lb.
Acquired: 1st round pick (#15 overall) in the 2012 draft
2012 Stats: .270/.379/.380 with 0 HR, 11 2B and 4 SB in 36 games for Mahoning Valley
Scouting Report: The selection of Naquin at #15 overall in this past June’s draft had some scratching their heads, as few analysts around baseball had the Texas A&M outfielder ranked that high on their boards. He has several above average tools, but the only one considered to be plus right now is his arm. He doesn’t have the power projection of a typical corner OF, and there are questions about whether or not he can remain in CF defensively as he was primarily a RF in college. He’s a good athlete with a funky swing, but he makes it work for him. He signed quickly and for $1.75 million, which was $500,000 below slot for the #15 pick.
Naquin’s bat to ball ability is his selling point at the plate, with one scout calling him a “future batting champion.” He does a great job making contact, and despite a pretty funky stance/swing, he puts the barrel of the bat on the ball. His power projection is below average, as he’s a guy who will probably hit 12-18 HR per season in his prime. If he can stay in CF defensively, his hit/power profile is just fine. But if he has to move to a corner, it leaves a little something to be desired.
Naquin was primarily a rightfielder in college, but not because he wasn’t able to handle CF. His collegiate team just happened to employ one of, if not the, fastest players in college baseball, so Naquin and his cannon arm slid over to RF. He’s got good speed and an amazing arm, so he could easily stay in CF long-term. What he needs now are repetitions in CF to work on his reads, routes and angles. The questions about Naquin’s ability to handle CF focus more on his lack of experience there rather than his lack of CF-quality tools. The Indians seem convinced he can play CF long-term, and if so his selection at #15 looks like much less of a reach and more of a bargain. After years of watching Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley and especially Johnny Damon “throw” balls in from the outfield, the chance to see Naquin gun down runners from the CF fence will be a very welcome sight.
Naquin is one of the few players in the system that I’ve never seen play live and in person, so I’m really looking forward to getting a long look at him in spring training this year. He’ll likely start out the season with low-A Lake County, but there’s a chance the Indians have him skip the level entirely and debut with high-A Carolina. Either way, he should be in Carolina before the all-star break as his age and experience should have him ready to take on that challenge. If his hit tool is what everyone thinks it is and he sticks in CF, the Indians may have found a below-slot steal in the first round of the draft last year.
Glass half-full: A cannon-armed CF who hits .300 and pops 15-20 HR annually
Glass half-empty: A cannon-armed RF who hits .270 and pops 10-15 HR annually
Height/Weight: 6-0/170 lb.
Acquired: International free agent in 2010
2012 Stats: .264/.300/.452 with 19 HR and 66 RBI in 126 games with Carolina.
Scouting Report: Rodriguez signed as an international free agent following the 2010 season, and the Indians immediately put the young Dominican to a difficult test in the Midwest League. As a 19-year old with the Captains, Rodriguez held his own, putting up a .723 OPS and hitting 11 HR in 98 games. For a kid his age in his first taste of professional baseball, that’s a pretty respectable line. He played all of last season in the high-A Carolina League, and his numbers improved across the board. He finished 4th in the league with 19 HR and 11th with his .452 SLG and was added to the Akron roster for the AA playoffs. After the minor league season came to an end, Rodriguez was sent to the elite Arizona Fall League where he was the youngest player on the Scottsdale Scorpions roster. Rodrigues hit just .239/.257/.373 in 18 games for Scottsdale, but the experience was a positive one as Rodriguez was exposed to the most advanced pitching he’s ever seen. For a 20-year old in his first full season as a professional, it was a very successful year.
Rodriguez has impressive power for a kid his size. He has plus bat speed and extremely quick wrists. He turns on an inside fastball as well as anyone in the system, and has plus pull power even on pitches down and away from him. His hit tool will probably never be more than average, and his approach needs work (88 K and just 19 BB in 483 AB last year), but watching Rodriguez pound balls out of the ballpark in batting practice and then in games is an impressive feat. He can struggle against righties, specifically against righties with good secondary stuff, and that’s something he’s going to need to work on if he hopes to succeed in and above AA. His impressive power can sometimes be a curse, as he gets a little pull-happy and tries to yank pitches he should be taking up the middle or to RF. That is a main cause of his strikeouts, as he’ll chase way too many pitches down and away that he couldn’t hit with a shovel. Improving his pitch recognition and selection is going to be key for Rodriguez going forward.
Defensively, Rodriguez played 80 games at SS and 45 games at 2B last year. After making 38 errors in 97 games at SS in 2011, he improved to 28 errors at short and just 5 at 2B. I said last year that Rodriguez has the raw tools to play SS, but he needed to get better at making the routine play. Judging solely on the error total, he was able to do that. Rodriguez is a talented natural athlete with a cannon for an arm. He has outstanding range, and does a nice job making the play in the hole and nailing runners at 1B with a jump-throw. He needs more reps at short, as his footwork can sometimes get a little rough, but when he’s just reacting to a play and lets his natural ability take over, he’s a lot of fun to watch. Some scouts are pigeonholing him as a 2B already, but I think that with hard work and experience he can stick at SS.
Rodriguez is another one of those guys who is just fun to watch play the game. He’s always smiling on the diamond and it’s clear he’s having a blast just playing baseball. He’s still raw and AA pitching will present a big challenge for the soon to be 21-year old, but even if he struggles out of the gate I think he’ll end up finding success at that level in 2013. He’s a great athlete with extremely quick hands and plus raw power, and those are things you just can’t coach. I know I say this a lot, but he really is one of my favorite players in the system and is a guy you just can’t help but like. I’ve had him everywhere from 4rd to 9th on this list before settling on him here, but he could easily have the type of season that has me regretting not slotting him in at #3 or 4 overall in the system.
Glass half-full: A 1st division starter at SS in The Show
Glass half-empty: A 1st division starter at 2B in the International League
Height/Weight: 6-0/190 lb.
Acquired: International free agent in 2006
2012 Stats: 5-2, 2.36 ERA with 76 K and 27 BB in 87 2/3 IP between Carolina and Akron
Scouting Report: Salazar was a somewhat surprising add to the 40-man roster last winter, and the 22-year old righty vindicated the Indians trust in him by submitting one of the strongest seasons by any pitcher in the organization. Salazar went under the knife for Tommy John surgery in 2010, and pitched just 14 2/3 innings in 2011 as a result. The Indians handled their prized righty with kid gloves in 2012, allowing him to start just 22 games and throw fewer than 90 innings. But the innings he did throw were outstanding ones, as he allowed just 98 baserunners all season between Carolina and Akron. Salazar was a key part of AA Akron’s championship season, going 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA in his 6 starts for the Eastern League champion Aeros.
Salazar sets everything up with his fastball, a pitch with easy mid-90’s velocity out of his loose, clean delivery. He was a shortstop in the Dominican Republic before the Indians had him concentrate on pitching full-time, and his athleticism shows through on the mound. When he’s locating his fastball effectively, minor league hitters are pretty much helpless against him. In addition to the fastball, Salazar throws a hard, biting slider that has outstanding late life. The slider velocity is high enough that hitters can easily mistake it for the fastball, and often start their swing before realizing that the pitch is going to end up a foot outside and in the dirt. The slider is already an above average pitch and has a future plus grade. His other secondary offering is a changeup that while decent, lags behind the fastball and slider at this stage of his development. If the changeup develops into a legitimate third pitch, lingering questions about Salazar’s eventual role as a starter will dissipate in a hurry.
If Salazar can remain in the rotation, he’s got a chance to be a solid #3 starter, if not better. That’s a big if though, as his height, injury history and shallow repertoire are all working against him at this stage of his career. Obviously, I believe he can pull it off or I wouldn’t have him ranked this high. It will be interesting to see how the Indians handle Salazar; he’s already on the 40-man roster, and his stuff would allow him to slide into a major league bullpen as soon as this year. But he’s not going to be ready to start at the major league level just yet, and needs a full, healthy season in the minors before that’s even worthy of discussion. If the Indians are in contention down the stretch and are in need of a bullpen arm, Chris Antonetti and company are going to have to resist the temptation to reach down on the farm and drop Salazar into that role. If he can stay healthy, pitch effectively and work on his changeup, Salazar could be a rotation option at some point in 2014. If not, he’s got a great fallback option as a power two-pitch guy in the back-end of a major league bullpen.
Glass half-full: A solid #3 starter in The Show
Glass half-empty: A solid back-end bullpen arm in The Show