|Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella|
Perhaps the most oft-repeated phrase this time of year, as teams report to Arizona and Florida and begin playing something that is the closest thing to baseball that we’ve all seen in the last 6 months, it is often said that “hope springs eternal”. And the reason for that is not just because every team has the same regular season record at this point or because every player is reporting to Spring Training is the “Best Shape of His Life”, but because the beginning of Spring Training often coincides with varied Top Prospect lists that seem to fly at us with increasing regularity, causing us to dream about what the 2017 OF or starting rotation could look like, largely based on these “lists” of names of 18-to-22 year-olds.
Some of these “lists” are largely regurgitations of other “lists” and others are so dependent upon one “source” without any other comparable (and often dissenting) point of view that they become so rosy that all the write-ups predict a future of multiple WS championships for a given number of farmhands. As Indians fans, we know that this pie-in-the-sky thinking needs to be balanced (that is, unless I missed the WS Parade down Euclid, led by Cy Young Award winner Atom Miller with WS MVP Jordan Brown riding shotgun) and that “balance” is why Al’s prospect lists – which have become a Spring staple – are so essential.
By not simply projecting these Minor Leaguers out as “best-case scenarios” for MLB, player after player, comp and comp, Al strikes a delicate balance between optimism and reality. Sure, he (like all of us) would like to dream that Jesus Aguilar is going to come and settle 1B into the 2020’s, but if Al is hearing something different from his network of sources or if he has personally seen something that leads him to believe differently, the rose-colored glasses remain tucked away with the pennant and the Sharpie at home. Because this list rises above the level of fanboy and provides a closer look into the system, injecting a sense of reality that is often lacking in prospect lists.
That’s not to say that Al isn’t biased – mainly to his catchers – but his balance between numbers and scouting provides a welcome realistic look at this time when we get to see a lot of these youngsters in Arizona in ST games and dream on what might be. Because for a lot of these guys (ahem…Lindor), “what might be” actually might come to pass…and soon; but for the majority of them, enthusiasm and optimism needs to be properly tempered and given the proper perspective. A balance that I’m proud to say that Al strikes here in the 2014 Top Prospect Countdown.
The labor of love is finally complete. I always underestimate how much work this prospect countdown is, somehow forgetting just how many hours of video, pictures and notes that I pour over in an effort to somehow rank the talent in the pipeline for the Cleveland Indians. It’s a really fun list to do, which is why I continue to do it every year, but it’s also a lot of work. A big thanks to Baseball Prospectus’ Stuart Wallace (who you can find on twitter @TClippardsSpecs) for help in the editing process of this year’s list. There would have been a lot more grammatical and spelling errors without Stuart, and he was a huge help on the baseball side of things as well. Thanks also to Mike Ferrin, Craig Goldstein, an unnamed NL scout (you know who you are) and of course the original DiaTribe himself, Paul Cousineau for letting me pepper them with questions and bounce ideas off of them this offseason. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, and thanks as always for reading.
|Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella|
The Indians have an interesting organization right now. They rank somewhere in the middle of the minor league systems around baseball, but have a lot of potential major league pieces scattered from AAA, all the way down to the complex leagues. There is legitimate potential All-Star-caliber talent at the top, with guys like Clint Frazier, Francisco Lindor and even the much-maligned Trevor Bauer. After those three, there’s a nice balance of young kids with huge upside (who also carry huge risk) as well as players without All-Star potential, but who are close to finished products and should be productive major leaguers. The system is still heavy on young, toolsy, up-the-middle players. They are heavy on SS, 2B, C and CF, which are traditionally the most challenging positions to fill on the diamond. Not all of those players are going to stick up the middle, and not all of them are going to make it to the major leagues. If Francisco Lindor is who we all hope he is, Ronny Rodriguez, Dorssys Paulino, Erik Gonzalez and the other SS in the org are going to have to move off the position or become trade bait at some point.
The system is thin on starting pitching. Trevor Bauer still has front of the rotation potential, but he could also tinker his way to a long and frustrating career of yo-yoing between AAA and the major leagues. College relievers Cody Anderson and Dace Kime are intriguing arms, but they have the ceiling of a solid #3. For the Indians to get an internal boost in the rotation this year, it’s going to have to come from a guy making a Salazar-type leap this season or through trading for someone else’s amateur talent.
The bullpen is a different story. The Indians have several options on the farm who are ready to step into the Bullpen Mafia, as soon as this season. Guys like Austin Adams, C.C. Lee, Kyle Crockett and Shawn Armstrong are names that we could see at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario if injury or ineffectiveness strikes the major league bullpen this season. These guys aren’t all ranked highly simply because a bullpen arm is easier to obtain than a starting pitcher or middle infielder, but because they can be important pieces of a major league club.
A quick glossary of some of the scouting terms you’ll see throughout the list:
The Five Tools: Hit, power, run, throw, and fielding. The power tool is raw power; how far a guy can hit a BP fastball. An All-Star level power tool with a replacement level hit tool won’t allow that power to show up in games. So you’ll see me talk about both raw power and game power potential.
OFP: Optimal Future Projection. The absolute best-case scenario for a guy.
RFP: Reasonable Future Projection. Neither an optimistic nor a pessimistic projection, but a realistic look at what a player will turn into.
Scouting scale: Goes from 20-80, generally shortened to 2-8. Will also see 5+, fringe 5, etc. Grades of 80 (or 8) are incredibly rare, Hall-of-Fame potential tools. An example of 8 raw power is Giancarlo Stanton or Bryce Harper. No one in the Indians system has 8 power.
Arm-side run: The tailing action on a fastball towards the pitchers arm-side. Arm-side run for a RHP will run inside on a RHB, the opposite action of a cutter.
|Photo Credit: AP|
40. Gio Soto, RP
Height/Weight: 6-2/190 lbs.
Acquired: In a trade from Detroit in exchange for Jhonny Peralta in 2010
2013 Stats: 0-1, 5.19 ERA with 8 K and 9 BB in 8 2/3 IP for AAA Columbus
Scouting Report: Soto had a lost 2013, as he went down with an injury in May and didn’t pitch again the rest of the season. Injuries are nothing new for the young southpaw from Puerto Rico, as he’s struggled with elbow problems and nagging injuries to his lower half throughout his five seasons as a professional. Soto has added a lot of weight to his frame since coming over from the Tigers in 2010, as he was a very slender 6’2”, 155 lbs when the Indians acquired him in exchange for SS Jhonny Peralta. The Indians finally decided to move Soto to the bullpen last year, something I’ve been advocating since 2011. It was thought that the move would put Soto on the fast-track to a major league debut, but the injury derailed that notion in a big way.
As I’ve said in this space for the past two-plus years, Soto reminds me of former Indians reliever Raffy Perez. His stuff is extremely comparable, as he features a two-seam fastball and cutter that remind me a lot of Raffy Left. The two-seamer has some nice arm-side run, and sits consistently between 88-91 MPH. The cutter flashes plus, and it’s a pitch that some lefties swing at, even as it is about to hit their back foot. He also throws a curveball and changeup, but in the bullpen, he can be effective with the fastball and cutter alone. He’ll be working in shorter stints and primarily against lefties, so there’s no real reason for him to go three or four pitches deep. Simple and effective will be the keys to Soto’s development, and if he can command his fastball to both sides of the plate to get ahead of hitters and then put them away with the cutter, he’s got a chance to be a piece of a major league bullpen for a long time.
Soto is a little strange, as during his career as a starter he actually has much better numbers against righties than lefties. If he pares down his arsenal and focuses on pitch sequencing and working specifically against left-handed batters, his stuff projects best in the bullpen. But if he can’t stay healthy and on the mound, he’s not going to make an impact anywhere. He should be back in the bullpen for AAA Columbus to open the 2014 season, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can make strides against lefties this season. If he can’t convert himself into a lefty specialist, he’s a long shot to ever make it to the major leagues.
Glass half-full: An effective LOOGY
Glass half-empty: AAA swingman out of the bullpen
|Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella|
39. Bryson Myles, OF
Height/Weight: 5-11/230 lbs.
Acquired: 6th round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: .285/.357/.427 with 8 HR and 52 RBI in 92 games with high-A Carolina
Scouting Report: Steady, but unspectacular, Myles has posted an OPS between .734 and .795 in all three of his professional seasons. Last year was the first time he didn’t steal exactly 20 bases, swiping 15 in 22 attempts with the Mudcats. He walked 32 times and struck out 84 compared to 32 walks an 85 K in 2012. He hit exactly 20 2B and 2 3B in each of the past two seasons. He racked up 144 total bases in 2013 after tallying 140 in 2012. To say the least, Myles has been extremely consistent as a professional since the Indians selected him in the 6th round of the 2011 draft out of Stephen F. Austin State University. He missed the entire month of May with a shoulder injury, and started a little slowly in June when he returned to action. But from July 1 through the end of the season, Myles hit an impressive .317/.391/.452 with 4 HR in 58 contests. It was a strong showing to close out the season, and hopefully he can continue the momentum through to 2014.
At the plate, Myles has an average hit tool and below-average power from the right side. He was pretty pull-happy in 2011/12, and really worked hard on using all fields at the plate last year. When Myles is staying back on the ball and using all fields, he’s a much better hitter than when he gets out on his front foot and tries to power everything out to left field. He has a level, line-drive swing and does a nice job putting the bat on the ball. He’s an excellent bunter, and has no hesitation dropping one down the line for a base hit if he notices the 3B is playing back or napping.
Myles has above-average speed and is an excellent baserunner. He has 55 stolen bases in his career, and really runs well for his size. He doesn’t have the defensive chops to handle CF though, and his arm is probably a tick below average so he projects to LF long-term.
Myles has always been a little old for the levels he’s played, and will likely open 2014 with AA Akron as a 24-year old. He projects best at this point as a 4th outfielder, a guy who can play CF in a pinch, and provides speed and the ability to play small ball off the bench. He’s a hard worker and will get the most out of his tools and is a great guy to have in the organization.
Glass half-full: A 4th OF and pinch runner off the bench in the big leagues
Glass half-empty: Organizational depth
|Photo Credit: Dave Monseur/Aeros|
38. Jeff Johnson, RP
Height/Weight: 6-0/185 lbs.
Acquired: 10th round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: 0-1, 8 saves, 2.25 ERA with 50 K and 15 BB in 48 IP between high-A Carolina and AA Akron
Scouting Report: Johnson opened eyes around the organization in 2012, when he struck out 75 in 58 2/3 innings with 16 saves between Lake County and Carolina. He built on that 2012 with another solid season last year, serving as one of the Mudcats closers before getting the call up to Akron in July. Johnson’s numbers actually improved with the promotion to AA, as his K rate went up while his walk rate and WHIP dropped against Eastern League hitters. It was an encouraging season for the former 10th round pick out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and the 23-year old looks more and more like a MLB bullpen piece every season.
Johnson is simple but effective, throwing just two pitches, a fastball and a splitter. The fastball sits in the 91-93 MPH range and can touch 95. He commands the pitch well and generally uses it to get ahead in the count before throwing his out pitch, a devastating splitter that dives down and out of the strike zone. The splitter is a plus pitch, coming in on hitters in the high-80s and looking very similar to his fastball. But the splitter tumbles down through the zone, and is difficult to hit, much less lift with any sort of power. He allowed just 2 HR all of last season, one each with the Aeros and the Mudcats. The splitter is a legitimate major league pitch and between it and the fastball, Johnson has a future as a power reliever.
Johnson wasn’t a highly regarded arm coming out of college and was selected in the 10th round partly for his signability. However, he’s a prime example of how it can be better to do one or two things exceedingly well than try to do too much and have their overall game suffer as a result. I’ll take a guy with two above-average to plus pitches over a guy with four or five below-average to average pitches any day. Johnson should be back in Akron to open the 2014 season, but could move quickly to Columbus based on his performance and how things shake in the AAA and major league bullpens this season.
Glass half-full: A power RP in the back end of a ML bullpen
Glass half-empty: The splitter stops splitting, and Johnson starts getting hit hard
|Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella|
37. Shawn Morimando, SP
Height/Weight: 5-11/170 lbs.
Acquired: 19th round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: 8-13, 3.73 ERA with 102 K and 76 BB in 135 IP for high-A Carolina
Scouting Report: Morimando put together a solid season for the Carolina Mudcats as a 20-year old last year. His ERA actually rose by a half run after a disastrous final start on Sept. 1 when he gave up 7 ER in just 2 IP, so those numbers could’ve looked even better if he’d just not started that last game of the season for the Mudcats. Drafted out of Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Morimando has risen steadily through the ranks despite less than dominant stuff. He threw just six innings in the complex leagues after he was drafted, but the Indians skipped him over short-season ball entirely and had him pitch all of 2012 with Lake County. Bumped up to the Carolina League last year, Morimando held his own against more experienced hitters, which is always an encouraging sign. To give you an idea of how young Morimando was for the level, just 32 of the 583 hitters he faced last season were younger than he was. Despite the young age, Morimando was still able to feature an 80-grade moustache last year.
Morimando is a command and control lefty who does a nice job inducing weak contact with his deceptive stuff. He throws three pitches, mixing in a curveball and changeup in addition to his fastball. His fastball sits between 86-89, but plays up a little due to some deception in his delivery. Coming from a ¾ arm slot, it has nice arm-side run and sink. His curveball is his best secondary pitch, a big, sweeping offering that comes in and runs across the strike zone. It’s an especially effective pitch against lefties, and helped Morimando hold same-siders to a .194/.318/.266 line in 2013 (.584 OPS). Development of the changeup will be key for Morimando, as it will give him a more effective pitch against right-handed batters. Righties put up a .732 OPS against Morimando last year, so those are some pretty distinct platoon splits.
Morimando is a good athlete, with a very clean, repeatable delivery. He’s an intelligent pitcher who will get the most out of his tools. His walk rate needs to come down, as a guy who pitches to contact the way Morimando does won’t be able to sustain a sub-4.00 ERA with a walk rate of 5.1/9 IP the way he did last season. If Morimando can command his fastball in the zone and pitch effectively to both sides of the plate, he’ll continue to find success as he climbs the organizational ladder. If he can refine his changeup and become more effective against righties in addition to lefties, then he’d be a legit SP prospect. As of now though, his RFP is a lefty out of the bullpen.
Glass half-full: A back-end starter
Glass half-empty: A left-handed reliever
|Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella|
36. Trey Haley, RP
Height/Weight: 6-3/180 lbs.
Acquired: 2nd round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: 1-4, 7 saves with a 4.70 ERA, 46 K and 39 BB in 44 IP for AA Akron
Scouting Report: I’ve long been high on Haley, but 2013 was a big step backwards for the big right-hander out of Nacogdoches, TX. Haley posted a career-worst 8 BB/9 for the Aeros last year, struggling with his command for the entire season. When he was in the strike zone, Haley was pretty good; AA batters hit just .239 off of him with a .297 SLG. He gave up just nine XBH, all of them doubles. But based primarily on the sky-high walk rate, Haley allowed a .416 OBP against him, a rate far, far too high to be an effective pitcher out of the bullpen (or the rotation, for that matter). I watched Haley pitch in July of last year when the Aeros were visiting the Bowie Baysox. Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard was working with Haley on his glove placement through his delivery, trying to ensure that Haley kept his glove low and use it to pull himself through his delivery. Haley took Hibbard’s instruction well, and went out and got a save that night. He retired the side in order with one strikeout and was really in command of his stuff. Unfortunately for Haley, that was the exception rather than the rule in 2013.
Haley began his career as a starter and has a deeper repertoire of pitches than most relievers. His arsenal starts with one of the best fastballs in the organization, a four-seamer that sits between 94-96 and has touched triple digits in the past. He compliments the plus heat with a sinking two-seamer and both a curveball and slider. The curveball is his best secondary offering, a big, 11-5 breaker that can really freeze hitters because of the difference in velocity between that pitch and his fastball. It helps Haley change the eye level of hitters, and can help him get more swings at his high heat than he otherwise might. The slider is very tight with late life, and comes in looking a lot like his fastball. It’s inconsistent right now, but can be a weapon for Haley if he can get better command of the pitch. He even mixes in the occasional changeup, a pitch that can be particularly effective when he has a hitter sitting on his fastball.
When he’s in the strike zone, Haley can be a dominant relief pitcher. In July of last year, he put up a miniscule 0.68 ERA with 12 K and 6 BB in 13 1/3 IP. He converted all three of his save opportunities that month, showing a tantalizing glimpse of his raw potential. But he lost whatever momentum he was building in August, when he went 0-3 with a 5.68 ERA in 12 2/3 IP (10 BB, 15 K). Haley has the raw stuff of a backend reliever. But if he can’t command it within the strike zone, he’s never going to make it past AAA. Haley was added to the 40-man roster in 2013, but was outrighted off the 40-man to make room for closer John Axford this winter. No other clubs claimed Haley off waivers, so he remains in the organization and was assigned to AAA Columbus. If Haley can refine his delivery and harness his outstanding stuff, he could be an 8th or 9th inning guy in the major leagues. Time will tell if he can make the necessary mechanical adjustments though, as for now he looks less likely to make it to the majors than he did at this point in 2013.
Glass half-full: A dominant, back-end reliever
Glass half-empty: AAA version of bad Mitch Williams