Friday, March 15, 2013

Indians Prospect Countdown: #20-16

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
Well Tribe fans, we're about to break into the top 20 prospects in the Indians organization. A sincere thanks for following along on our little ride, and I promise we're on the home stretch here. Today, we'll look at a power hitting 1B who has a little trouble with the slider, a tantalizing young OF from Venezuela, a 2012 draftee with a heart of gold, a(nother) power righthanded reliever who's dealing with some injury issues and a southpaw starter who is one of the most entertaining interviews in the entire organization, even if he is an LSU fan.

20. Jesus Aguilar, 1B

DOB: 6/30/1990
Height/Weight: 6-3/240 lbs
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: International free agent in 2007
2012 Stats: .280/.372/.461 with 15 HR and 71 RBI in 127 games between Carolina and Akron

Scouting Report: Aguilar is one of the few power corner IF prospects in the Indians system. He’s a big, big kid who looks like the 6’3” 240 lb official listing might be a bit low. He has impressive raw power, and when he really gets into a pitch it can go a long, long ways. His raw power is up there with anyone in the system, but as Aguilar has risen through the system the power has struggled to show up in game situations. He broke out with an .865 OPS and 23 HR in 2011, mostly in the low-A Midwest League with the Lake County Captains. But in 2012 with the Carolina Mudcats, he managed just 12 HR in 107 games. He did have an impressive run with AA Akron to close out the season, putting up a .292/.402/.500 line with 3 HR and 13 RBI in 20 games in the Eastern League. But his K rate also jumped when he was promoted to AA, as he struck out 24 times in those 20 games after whiffing just 91 times in 107 Carolina League contests.

Aguilar’s power is really his only plus tool. His hit tool is average, and he’s still susceptible to breaking balls down and out of the strike zone. He can turn around a fastball as well as anyone in the minor league system, which was proven in his at-bats against uber-prospect Dylan Bundy. Aguilar collected hits against Bundy in the Carolina League, Eastern League playoffs and the MLB Futures Game last season, all while facing Bundy’s upper-90’s heat. But to be a more complete hitter, he’s got to get better with his pitch recognition and selection. As he progresses through the minor league levels, breaking balls are just going to get better and better, and his approach will be exploited by more advanced pitching.

Aguilar’s defense is considered below average, although it is improving. He’s really working hard at that aspect of his game, as last year in Spring Training he’d go out onto the fields as much as an hour early to take groundballs from minor league instructor Travis Fryman. But his range remains below average, even as he continues to improve his hands. Aguilar is a bat-only prospect at 1B, and guys like that really have to mash in order to make it to The Show. 15 HR and a .461 SLG is decent, but it’s not mashing, and Aguilar’s power stroke will have to come back if he wants to continue to advance up the organizational ladder.

Aguilar should begin 2013 back in AA Akron, which will be a challenge for the soon to be 23-year old 1B. If he can clean up his approach and do a better job laying off of breaking balls (particularly sliders) down and out of the strike zone, he can make pitchers come to him with fastballs in the zone more often. And if he gets a mistake up in the strike zone, he can really make pitchers pay. If his approach remains the same or even regresses, then Aguilar will have real trouble with AA pitching.

Glass half-full: A middle of the order presence at 1B
Glass half-empty: Pedro Cerrano before Jobu taught him to hit the curveball

19. Anthony Santander, LF

DOB: 10/19/1994
Height/Weight: 6-2/187 lbs
Bats/Throws: Switch/Right
Acquired: International free agent in 2011
2012 Stats: .305/.381/.494 with 4 HR and 23 RBI in 43 games with Rookie Arizona

Scouting Report: Santander was one of the Indians big signings out of the international market in 2011, along with shortstop Dorssys Paulino. Santander was born and raised in Venezuela, and signed with the Indians for $385,000. He made his stateside debut in the complex leagues as a 17-year old last season, and more than held his own with an .874 OPS in 43 games with the Rookie League Indians.

Santander is going to make his money with his bat. He has an above-average hit tool, and even though he just started switch-hitting a couple of years ago he’s already showing promise from both sides of the plate. He’s not an elite athlete, but has a smooth, clean swing from both sides of the plate and does a nice job getting the bat on the ball. His power projects to be above average, as he’s got quite a bit of room to fill out on his 6’2” frame. Adding strength and good weight will help him become a potential impact bat down the road.

Defensively, Santander has above-average speed but a below-average arm so he’ll likely be limited to LF at higher levels in the system. He played nine games in RF last year, but unless his arm takes a big step forward he’s not going to be able to play in right beyond Arizona. Even with the limited defensive profile, Santander is a potential impact prospect thanks to his ability at the dish. His size, speed and projection are a tantalizing package in a system desperate for corner bat prospects. He’ll probably open 2013 in extended spring training and join up with the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers when the NYPL starts up in June.

Glass half-full: A middle of the order bat in LF
Glass half-empty: His bat can’t carry him all the way to the show

18. Kieran Lovegrove, RHP

DOB: 7/28/1994
Height/Weight: 6-4/185 lbs
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 3rd round pick in 2012
2012 Stats: 0-2, 6.00 ERA with 18 K and 9 BB in 21 IP for Rookie Arizona

Scouting Report: Lovegrove was the Indians 3rd round pick in last June’s draft (110 overall), and he signed for an underslot bonus of $400,000 (just under the $432,700 commissioner’s “recommendation” for the pick). Lovegrove has a real believer in ESPN’s Keith Law, as Law ranked him as the #46 overall player in the draft and then put him in his Indians top-10 prospect list this offseason. Lovegrove was born in South Africa and came to the US when he was 5 years old, and actually started playing cricket before picking up baseball. He signed in time to debut in the complex leagues last year, throwing 21 innings with Rookie League Arizona.

Lovegrove has an above-average fastball, sitting in the 89-93 MPH range with consistency and touches 95. He’s still a pretty wiry kid, and that velocity could pick up a couple of ticks as he fills out and adds some more strength to his frame. His best secondary pitch is a slider that has sharp, late life and is especially tough on righthanded hitters. Lovegrove’s delivery still has some kinks, as the Indians would like to see him use his lower half more to generate extra power and take some of the stress off of his arm. If the Indians developmental staff can get adjust his stride and get him to use his legs, his velocity will creep up and he should be able to command his stuff more effectively.

Lovegrove is a mature kid for his age, and while in high school he co-fouded a charity for low income youths who want to play baseball or softball. Lovegrove and a couple of teammates founded the Going to Bat foundation, and they’ve been able to provide bats, balls, gloves and other gear to schools all over the US and even South Africa. It’s a really neat thing for a high school kid to do, and show’s Lovegrove’s maturity and character.

Lovegrove will be just 18 for most of the 2013 season, and will likely pitch primarily in the complex leagues again. There’s a chance he could move up to Mahoning Valley when the short-season leagues start up in June, but I wouldn’t expect to see him in Lake County at any point in 2013. Lovegrove has a lot of talent, but with his age and mechanical issues, he’s going to need plenty of time in the minors working out the all of the kinks.

Glass half-full: A #3 starter in a major league rotation.
Glass half-empty: A power reliever in the back of a bullpen.

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
17. T.J. House, LHP
DOB: 9/29/1989
Height/Weight: 6-2/215 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Left
Acquired: 16th round pick in 2008
2012 Stats: 10-5, 3.56 ERA with 116 K and 50 BB in 149 1/3 IP for Carolina and Akron

Scouting Report: Signed to an overslot bonus of $750,000 in 2008, the former Tulane commit out of Mississippi had a disappointing season in 2011. House repeated high-A in 2011 and took a significant step backwards in his development, posting a higher ERA, higher BB rate, gave up more hits per 9 and struck out fewer hitters than in 2010. By any measure it was a disappointing season for the 21 year old lefty, and House was determined not to let that season’s struggles repeat themselves. House reported to spring training in 2012 in the best shape of his career, having lost about 30 lbs with an aggressive offseason training regimen. He also went back to a more ¾ delivery that he used in high school after having started to throw more over-the-top as a professional. Whether it was the delivery, the better conditioning or both, House had a much better season in 2012. He opened in the high-A Carolina League for the 3rd straight season, but moved quickly to AA Akron after just 4 starts (2-0) with the Mudcats. With the Eastern League champion Aeros, House went 8-5 with a 3.98 ERA in 124 1/3 IP. He struck out 90 AA hitters and walked 44, a much better ratio than his 89 K and 50 BB in 149 IP with Kinston in 2011. He was instrumental in the Aeros run to the Eastern League championship and was especially effective down the stretch.

House has a plus fastball from the left side, running his 2-seamer as high as 95 MPH. It sits consistently between 91-93, and has nice arm-side run from the ¾ arm slot. When he’s locating the fastball, it’s an effective pitch against hitters on both sides of the plate. His best secondary offering is his slider which has nice late life and tilt. It’s murder on lefties, and has really helped House hold down same-siders throughout his career. He also throws a changeup that really made strides last season and can flash plus. Developing the changeup is key for House, as he really needs that 3rd pitch to change speeds on hitters. He also throws a curveball, but it’s not as effective as his other three offerings. He profiles well as a #4 or even a #3 starter in a major league rotation.

After leading the Aeros in IP last year, House was assigned to the elite Arizona Fall League following the 2012 season. The AFL is a notorious hitters league, but House had a really solid campaign as a starter with the Scottsdale Scorpions. House made 6 starts in the desert, going 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA. He struck out 26 and walked just 9 in 27 IP, and overall he allowed just 29 baserunners. Small sample size, but he faced 39 lefthanded batters while with the Scorpions and just 5 of them reached base.

Depending on how the 25-man roster eventually shakes out, House has a good chance to start off the 2013 season with AAA Columbus. Even if he ends up back in Akron for the beginning of the season, House will be just 23 years old for the entire 2013 season. He’s ahead of the curve at his age, and there’s plenty of time for House to continue to mature and refine his craft in the minors. House was added to the 40-man roster this offseason ahead of fellow LHP T.J. McFarland, and McFarland had already pitched most of a season for AAA Columbus. It’s clear House is in the organization’s plans in the near future, and that future could come as soon as 2014.

Glass half-full: A #3 starter in a major league rotation
Glass half-empty: A #5 starter in a major league rotation

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
16. Chen-Chang Lee, RHP

DOB: 10/21/1986
Height/Weight: 5-11/190 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: International free agent in 2008
2012 Stats: 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA, 8 K and 1 BB in 7 IP for AAA Columbus

Scouting Report: Lee started the 2012 season in AAA Columbus and was primed for a run to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. He was seen as one of the first pitchers in line to be called up to the Indians should injury or ineffectiveness befall one of the members of the Indians bullpen. Unfortunately, his season was cut short after just 7 innings of work due to an elbow injury that would require Tommy John surgery. It all worked out for the Indians as Cody Allen made his meteoric rise all the way to Cleveland from Carolina, but it had to be frustrating for Lee to be on the sidelines instead of pitching with the Clippers or even the Indians in 2012.

Lee has long been one of the most dominant relievers in the system, striking out 286 hitters in just 234 1/3 career innings pitched (11 K/9!) while walking just 74 and posting an even 3.00 ERA.  He has allowed just 15 HR his entire professional career. Those are some incredible numbers, and it’s easy to see why the Indians saw the 25-year old as a major league option as early as last season. He’s got an electric arm, and has amazing velocity for a guy that’s not even 6’ tall.

Lee’s fastball explodes out of his hand, sitting comfortably between 92-95 MPH and can touch 97. He attacks hitters from a variety of arm angles, from ¾ down to full-on sidearm, which helps that fastball dance all over the place depending on where his release point is on that particular pitch. He compliments that fastball with a plus-plus slider, a pitch that has outstanding tilt and hard, late life. The pitch is murder on righthanded hitters, and results in some very ugly swings when hitters are incorrectly guessing fastball. In addition to the slider, Lee throws a sinker and a forkball that acts as his changeup. The forkball can really dive down through the zone, but it’s not as effective an offering as his slider. It’s a weapon that he can use to attack lefthanded hitters, but with his low arm slot and wipeout slider he’s much more effective against righties.

Lee’s developmental arc is pretty much complete, and if not for his injury last year it’s possible he wouldn’t even be eligible for this list. If he’s back healthy in 2013, he’ll be an option for the major league bullpen this season. The Indians bullpen is pretty crowded this year, but between injuries, ineffectiveness and trades it’s likely that Lee will have an opportunity to pitch in The Show at some point in 2013. He’s 26 years old, so the time is now for the power righthander. Worst-case, he can be a weapon against same-siders out of the bullpen. He’s going to have to start the season on the DL while recovering from the TJ surgery, but should be back pitching in the Clippers bullpen at some point in the first half of the 2013 season.

Glass half-full: Backend reliever in a major league bullpen.
Glass half-empty: Elbow issues persist and he doesn’t pitch in the majors.


Adam Van Arsdale said...

What do you think is the source of Aguilar's lack of power? Does he not consistently make good contact? Does he have a swing that doesn't generate a lot of natural loft?

Al Ciammaichella said...

He has a shorter swing than you'd expect, and like you said it just doesn't have a lot of natural loft. His struggles with offspeed stuff complicate things, as he gets such a steady diet of breaking balls he doesn't get a chance to turn around a fastball as much as in the lower levels. The BP power is there, but it just hasn't materialized in games like you'd expect.

Marc Breed said...

You gotta see this!

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