Friday, March 07, 2014

Indians Prospect Countdown: #15-11

We're closing in on the top ten prospect in the Indians organization. Entering the top 15, we're looking at a power-hitting 1B who had a big winter campaign, a pitcher-turned-OF who made major strides in 2013, a college reliever who is going to get a chance to start as a professional, a power relief arm who could be in Cleveland this year and an infielder-turned-catcher who is among the hardest working players in all of minor league baseball.

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
15. Jesus Aguilar, 1B
DOB: 6/30/1990
Height/Weight: 6-3/250 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: International free agent signing in 2007
2013 Stats: .275/.349/.427 with 16 HR and 105 RBI in 130 games with AA Akron

Scouting Report: After a decent season for AA Akron (.776 OPS), Aguilar went down to Venezuela for winter ball and set the league on fire, popping more HR (18) in 58 games for Caracas than he did in 130 games with Akron. He was 2nd in the entire Venezuelan League in HR, and his 1.000 OPS was good for 3rd. The Venezuelan Winter League is not particularly known for its pitching, but 18 HR is 18 HR.

Aguilar has as much raw power of anyone in the Indians minor league system. He puts on a show in batting practice, frequently launching balls out of the stadium. He can turn around anyone’s fastball, as evidenced by his performance against Orioles uber-prospect Dylan Bundy in 2012. Aguilar collected three hits against Bundy (including in the Futures Game and in the Eastern League playoffs), all off of his 97+ MPH fastball. As impressive as his power is though, it will likely never play up to its potential in game situations. Aguilar’s hit tool is merely average, and he’s still very susceptible to breaking balls down and out of the zone. He struck out 107 times in 2013, marking the 3rd consecutive season where he’s passed the century mark in K’s at the dish.

Defensively, Aguilar has worked very hard to get to fringe-average. He’s a big guy, and his mobility is always going to be below average. He has soft hands and does a nice job digging throws in the dirt at 1B. During Spring Training, he’s frequently out at the fields early with members of the Indians coaching staff working on his footwork and fielding at 1B. I saw Travis Fryman hit Aguilar about 200 grounders before one practice last year. It’s not that Aguilar is disinterested or lazy in the field, it’s just that the raw tools aren’t there for him to be an above-average 1B.

Entering his age-24 season, Aguilar is getting close to being a finished product. His pitch recognition/selection hasn’t evolved to where I’d hoped it would, and that will limit his power potential. He’s got a chance to be a 2nd-division 1B, but that’s pretty much his ceiling at this point. Aguilar is ready to be the everyday 1B for AAA Columbus, and will be on call should an injury create an opening at the big league level in 2014. He should post some pretty good power numbers in the friendly confines of Huntington Park in Columbus, but take those numbers with a grain of salt. He’s a very good mistake hitter, but is still overmatched when faced with high-quality breaking balls.

Glass half-full: A 2nd-division 1B with some pop
Glass half-empty: A DH/1B type with some pop off the bench

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
14. Carlos Moncrief, OF
DOB: 11/3/1988
Height/Weight: 6-0/220lbs
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 14th round pick in the 2008 MLB draft
2013 Stats: .284/.354/.470 with 17 HR and 75 RBI in 129 games with AA Akron

Scouting Report: Moncrief got a little bit of a late start as an OF prospect. He was drafted as a starting pitcher, and spent two season on the mound before making the transition to the OF in 2010. He has an intriguing power/speed combination, as he’s averaged 17 HR and 16 SB over the past three seasons while working his way up the Indians minor league ladder. He’s made clear strides in his approach and pitch selection along the way, going from 158 K in 2011 to 126 K in 2012 to just 98 K last season with AA Akron. His batting average has increased every year as well, from .233 to .249 to .284, and as you’d expect, his OPS has been trending upwards as well (.768/.804/.824). He was probably the most improved player in the Indians organization last year, and is on his way towards a major league debut as early as 2014.

Moncrief has above-average pop from the left side of the plate, projecting to hit 20+ HR in a full season’s worth of AB. He has good bat speed, and really made significant strides in his pitch recognition/selection last year. Moncrief posted or equaled personal bests in AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, RBI, 3B, 2B, H, R and strikeouts last season. That’s an extremely encouraging developmental trend, as most young hitters start to struggle when they reach the more advance pitching of AA, but Moncrief broke out. Going into last year, I thought Moncrief’s hit tool would prevent his raw power from showing up in game situations. He proved me wrong in a big way, showing an ability to stay back on the baseball and use all fields in a way that I hadn’t seen from him before. It was an extremely impressive season, even if he was a little old for the level (owing to his two wasted seasons on the mound). He tallied 50 XBH in fewer than 500 AB last year, showcasing both his raw power and hitting ability.

As you’d expect from a converted pitcher, Moncrief has an absolute cannon in RF. He recorded 16 OF assists last year, as Eastern League coaches and baserunners tested him far more often than they should’ve. It’s a 7 arm that is both strong and accurate, and it’s a valuable weapon to have lurking in RF. With Moncrief in RF and Tyler Naquin in CF for Akron at the end of last season, the Aeros could boast two of the top arms in all of minor league baseball playing side by side. He’s also an above-average runner, tallying 15 or more SB in each of the last three seasons. The arm and mobility make him an ideal RF, and his bat should be able to play there.

After spending all of 2013 with AA Akron, Moncrief is now ready to contribute at the major league level as early as this season. The needs of the big club will dictate his timetable more than anything else at this point, but if Moncrief can continue his trend of improving his numbers across the board in every season, he’s going to force his way to Cleveland sooner or later. He jumped higher on this list than anyone else in the organization from 2013 to 2014 (33 last year, 14 this year) and has gone from intriguing skill set to a legitimate option at the major league level.

Glass half-full: A 20/20 RF at the major league level
Glass half-empty: A very useful 4th OF

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
13. Dace Kime, SP
DOB: 3/6/1992
Height/Weight: 6-4/200 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 3rd round pick in the 2013 MLB draft
2013 Stats: 0-2, 2.92 ERA with 26 K and 16 BB in 24 2/3 IP for short-season Mahoning Valley

Scouting Report: Kime was born and raised in Defiance, Ohio, and attended the University of Louisville where he pitched primarily out of the bullpen. The Indians believe he can be a starter in the professional ranks, and he pitched exclusively in the rotation with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2013. He put up solid numbers in his 9 starts in the NYPL, striking out more than a batter per inning and putting up a sub-3.00 ERA. He did walk 16, showing inconsistent command and struggling a little to repeat his delivery in that small sample.

Kime’s fastball sits in the low-90’s and can touch 95. He delivers it from a high ¾ arm slot that gives it some arm-side run and sink. Fastball location is going to be extremely important for Kime. If he can spot his fastball and keep it down in the zone, he’ll be successful. When he struggled last year, it was because his fastball location was inconsistent. He has two secondary offerings, a curveball and a changeup. The curve flashes plus, a big, bending pitch with strong 11-5 action. It should be at least an above-average pitch at the major league level. The changeup is intriguing, as it can be a very good pitch but sometimes stays flat and hittable. Refining and improving the changeup will be big for Kime, but scouts feel like it’s a pitch that he’ll have in his arsenal moving forward.

Kime doesn’t profile as a top of the rotation arm, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have value moving forward. He has the potential for three above-average pitches, and while that doesn’t make him the sexiest prospect in the system, it gives him an awfully good chance of a future in a major league rotation. He projects as a good #4 or a low #3 right now, but if any of those pitches tick upwards to plus, he can easily be a #3 in a good rotation. He’s a big, strong kid with a starter’s body and arsenal who should open up the 2013 season in the Carolina Mudcats rotation.

Glass half-full: A #3 in a playoff-level rotation
Glass half-empty: A #4 in an average rotation

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
12. Austin Adams, RP
DOB: 8/19/1986
Height/Weight: 5-11/190 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 5th round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: 3-2, 4 saves, 2.62 ERA with 76 K and 29 BB in 55 IP for AA Akron

Scouting Report: Austin Adams was a top-5 prospect in the organization heading into the 2012 season. He was a starting pitcher at the time, but injured his shoulder and went down with season-ending surgery to correct the issue. He didn’t appear in a single game in 2012, and when he returned in the spring of 2013, it was out of the bullpen. Adams pitched exclusively out of the ‘pen last year, recording 4 saves and posting a 3-2 record. It was a successful bounceback season for Adams, as shoulder injuries are more difficult to recover from than elbow injuries, and it was unclear as to whether Adams would have similar stuff compared to his pre-injury repertoire.

Prior to the shoulder troubles, Adams was able to touch triple-digits with his fastball. He wasn’t able to get it up quite that high in 2013, but was still able to touch 98 several times when I saw him last August. He compliments the plus fastball with a very good slider that flashes plus, as well as a curveball and a changeup. The slider has tight, sharp break with excellent tilt. The curveball is a weapon that Adams can use to change the eye level on hitters, and the change is a nice 4th offering to keep hitters honest. The tendency for hitters is to sit on Adams heat, and the change can really make them look silly when he throws it in a 2-0, 3-1 or other count when hitters are guessing fastball. Adams pitches to both sides of the plate, and loves to come inside on batters to make them uncomfortable in the box.

Adams has closer’s stuff, and now that he’s been fully transitioned from a starter to a reliever, he should move quickly through the system. A former shortstop at Faulkner College, Adams is an excellent athlete who does a nice job repeating his delivery. When he’s throwing strikes, Adams is successful. He posted the highest BB/9IP ratio of his career last year (4.7), but that can be expected from a guy coming off of major shoulder surgery and a full year layoff from pitching. There were only two outings last year where he allowed an earned run without walking at least one batter. His ability to miss bats (12.4 K/9IP last year) will help him overcome a higher than normal walk rate regardless, but I think that walk rate is going to come down in 2014. He’s close to being a finished product, and could easily pitch in Cleveland this season based on the needs of the big league club. Relievers who throw 97+ generally find a way to contribute to a major league ballclub, and I don’t expect Adams to be an exception to that rule. He’s the top true reliever in Indians minor league system right now, and a potential closer down the road if the need arises at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Glass half-full: A 9th inning arm in a major league bullpen
Glass half-empty: A 7th inning arm in a major league bullpen

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
11. Tony Wolters, C
DOB: 6/9/1992
Height/Weight: 5-10/177 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 3rd round pick in the 2010 MLB draft
2013 Stats: .277/.369/.353 with 3 HR and 33 RBI in 80 games for high-A Carolina

Scouting Report: Last year at this time, Wolters was one of several impressive middle infield prospects coming through the Indians system. He was coming off of a solid season with high-A Carolina, and figured to start the 2013 season as the everyday 2B in Akron. But at the end of March, as camp was breaking, the Indians made a surprise announcement; Wolters would be switching positions. Moving forward, Tony Wolters would be a catcher. The move took everyone off-guard, as Wolters had caught only sporadically in high school and was seen as a top-10 prospect in the organization playing in the middle infield. Moves like that are generally made out of desperation, and the Indians were hardly desperate with Wolters in 2013. In this case, the move was made because the Indians genuinely think that Wolters can be an above-average backstop, and his offensive profile plays even better behind the plate than it does at 2B or SS. Known throughout his career as an extremely hard worker, Wolters threw himself into learning the position in extended spring training before joining the Carolina Mudcats for a 2nd season. His offensive numbers in 2013 were very similar to 2012’s, but considering he was learning not only a new position but the most difficult position on the diamond, I’d consider it a successful season.

At the plate, Wolters is a patient hitter with an advanced approach from the left side. He has a smooth, level swing that offers excellent plate coverage and sprays line drives all over the field. Wolters took a huge step forward in his approach last season, walking 41 times and striking out 58 in 340 plate appearances after walking just 36 times and recording 104 strikeouts in 537 PA’s in 2012. That’s a 10% walk rate, up from 6% the year before. Wolters did see his power numbers dip slightly, slugging just .353, but I expect that to be a one-year aberration rather than a trend. It’s an enticing profile as a catcher, and if Wolters can provide even adequate defense at the position, he has a chance to catch in the big leagues.

Defensively, Wolters is still a work in progress. But he’s further along after one season at the position that I thought possible. Lucky for Wolters (and the Indians), the Carolina Mudcats manager last year was David Wallace. Wallace was an outstanding defensive catcher in his playing days, and is the ideal guy to help mold a young backstop into a solid receiver and defender. Wolters made some dramatic strides in his defensive game last year, going from a 2B who was playing catcher to an actual catcher by the end of the season. His soft hands help his receiving, and his athleticism really has him moving well behind the plate. He allowed just 6 passed balls in 58 games behind the plate with Carolina, an amazing number for a new catcher on the receiving end of high-A pitching. Teams clearly tried to run on Wolters, as he threw out 25 of 90 attempted basestealers. That 28% ratio is respectable, and it will likely improve as Wolters improves his footwork and cleans up his throwing actions behind the plate. He has all the tools to be an above-average defensive catcher, he just needs time and reps to put it all together on the field.

Wolters is one of the hardest working players in the Indians organization, which is one reason they thought the move to catcher would stick. He plays with a high baseball IQ, and will always get the most out of his tools. He’s a lot of fun to watch play, and is one of my favorite players in the system. None of his tools grade out as plus, but none are significantly below-average, either. Wolters will likely move up to AA Akron along with manager David Wallace, so the two of them will be able to work on developing Wolters as a catcher for at least one more season. He’s got a difficult road to the majors as a converted catcher, but if anyone can make it happen, Tony Wolters can.

Glass half-full: An offense-oriented 2nd division starting catcher
Glass half-empty: The transition behind the plate doesn’t take and Wolters becomes a super-utility player

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