Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Indians Prospect Countdown: #15-11

Photo Credit: Baseball America
15. Yu-Cheng Chang, INF
DOB: 8/18/1995
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 175 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: International free agent signed in 2013
2014 Stats: .346/.420/.566 with 6 HR and 25 RBI in 42 games for the Rookie League Arizona Indians

Scouting Report: Chang was signed out of Taiwan in 2013 for a $500,00 bonus and really opened some eyes in his stateside debut in the complex league. He finished 2nd in the AZL in homers and 3rd with a .986 OPS. He’s a very good athlete who has bounced around the left side of the infield, and his future home on defense is still up in the air. Chang was a CF and a member of the Taiwanese national team in 2011, making the 16U All-Tournament Team in what was a pretty talented group of international outfielders. He hit .414/.469/.690 for the tournament, showing that he could compete with the best in the world at his level. Chang’s older brother is a catcher in the Pirates system, and he joins several other Taiwanese prospects (including ML bullpen piece C.C. Lee) in the Indians organization.

When he was signed in 2013, most of the scouting reports on Chang talked about his smooth, level swing that was geared towards line drives and not HR. But he hit nearly as many HR (6) as 2B (9) in his first 159 professional AB, so it’s clear that there’s some legit over-the-fence pop in the bat. That’s in the dry air of AZ, of course, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. He also showcased a solid approach, walking 18 times against 28 strikeouts. That’s going to be tested by the more advanced pitching that Chang is going to see in full-season leagues, but he’s already seen some pretty decent spin in his international career so should be a little further ahead of the curve there than a typical 18 year old international signee.

Defensively, Chang appeared in 22 games at SS and 16 at 3B last season. Most scouts see a move off of SS as he develops, but the Indians are going to keep him in the middle of the diamond as long as possible. He has an average arm and above-average speed, so there’s a chance he ends up back in the outfield before all is said and done. He has above-average speed and has proven able to handle CF in the past, so there’s a lot of potential versatility here.

Chang is a good athlete who should add some bulk to his frame as he matures. He may outgrow SS, but if that’s the case he’ll also add some strength and power, so it’s almost a fair tradeoff. He’s an intriguing prospect who has a lot of talent evaluators both in and outside of the organization thinking big things for his future, but he’s also a long ways away. Chang will play most of the 2015 season as a 19-year old, turning 20 in August. At the very least, he should debut in the NYPL when the short-season leagues start up in June, but there’s a chance the Indians get aggressive with him and start him off in Lake County at the beginning of the season. He’s a guy I’m excited to see more of, as I’ve been limited to just a quick look in spring training last year.

Glass half-full: A plus-offensive producer on the left side of a major league infield
Glass half-empty: A minor league washout

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
14. Tony Wolters, C
DOB: 6/9/1992
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 177 lb.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 3rd round pick in the 2010 MLB draft
2014 Stats: .249/.319/.314 with 1 HR and 34 RBI in 94 games with AA Akron

Scouting Report: Two years ago, Wolters was wrapping up spring training expecting to be the everyday 2B for the Akron Aeros. But just prior to the club breaking camp, there was a surprise announcement; Wolters would be moving behind the plate. Wolters went from a top-10 prospect in the organization at 2B to a relative unknown behind the plate. Unsurprisingly, Wolters threw himself into the position change with everything he had, and has developed into a pretty good backstop. He finally made it to Akron last year, albeit as a RubberDuck and a catcher rather than an Aero and a middle infielder. His offensive numbers were down across the board, but the 22-year old more than held his own defensively in his first year in the Eastern League.

Offensively, Wolters has a solid but not sexy profile. His hit tool projects to be at least average, and has below average power potential. He’s hit just 13 HR in 387 minor league games, and will likely never crack double-digits at the major league level. He’s small for a catcher, and AA pitchers were unafraid to challenge him in the strike zone last year. He walked just 35 times and struck out 74, helping to contribute to a below-average .319 OBP. Wolters also hit a career-low 1 HR last year, continuing a downward trend for his power since his 8 HR, .404 SLG season in 2012. He was still young for the level last year though, and while he’s not going to slug his way to the major leagues, I think his hit tool will end up providing some value when his developmental arc is complete.

In just two years, Wolters has managed to turn himself into a plus defensive catcher. Last year, he threw out 25 of 53 would-be basestealers, good for a 47% caught stealing rate. That’s phenomenal no matter who’s behind the plate, but for someone who’s only been catching for two years, it’s completely unheard of. Wolters caught just 28% of the baserunners who ran on him in 2013, so to see that kind of jump is really remarkable. Wolters did not make an error behind the plate last year, and allowed just four passed balls in 66 games behind the plate. Again, those are outstanding numbers for someone who’s been catching all his life, let alone someone new to the position. And it doesn’t stop there. For the first time, Baseball Prospectus has come up with framing metrics for minor league catchers in addition to major league stats. Those metrics found that Wolters was the 2nd best catcher in all of AA baseball last year in terms of getting extra strikes for his pitchers. Wolters put his soft hands to work receiving and framing the baseball, and it has paid off in a big way. It’s no coincidence that Dave Wallace has been Wolters’ manager for the past two years in both Carolina and Akron. Having Wally work with Wolters every day has helped to turn him into one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, just two years removed from being a middle infielder. It’s a remarkable transition to say the least.

Wolters is one of the hardest working baseball players I’ve ever been around, and I’ve played/watched baseball for my entire life. He’s the first one out on the field for practice and the last guy off the field at the end of the day. He’s going to get the most out of his tools due to his makeup, and is a guy that just flat-out loves the game of baseball. He’s an absolute joy to watch play the game, and is one of my favorite players in the organization. It really is incredible how he’s taken to the most difficult on the field (and arguably the most difficult position in all of sports) like a fish to water, helped by some great instruction from former catchers-turned coaches in the organization like Scooter Tucker, Dave Wallace and Sandy Alomar. Oh, and he made one of the best defensive plays in all of minor league baseball last year in one of his 10 games at 2nd base. Wolters will likely open 2015 back in AA Akron, but could be in Columbus before the end of the season. Unless his offensive profile trends unexpectedly upwards, Wolters will probably be a backup catcher in the major leagues. But he’ll be a very good backup catcher, one that could play in The Show for a long, long time.

Glass half-full: A very good backup catcher in the major leagues
Glass half-empty: A decent backup catcher in the major leagues, and a fantastic coach afterwards

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
13. Nelson Rodriguez, 1B
DOB: 6/12/1994
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 250 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 15th round pick in the 2012 MLB draft
2014 Stats: .268/.349/.482 with 22 HR and 88 RBI in 130 games with low-A Lake County

Scouting Report: Drafted out of the same NYC high school attended by Indians legend Manny Ramriez, Rodriguez spent his age-20 season in the difficult hitters environment of the Midwest League with Lake County. He proved more than up to the challenge, hitting a league-leading 22 HR, 32 2B and drove in 88 runs. It was a vast improvement over his time with the Captains in 2013, when he slashed just .194/.305/.256 with 1 HR in 47 games. It was an encouraging developmental step for the slugger, who even at age-20 was a little young for the level. He finished out the season strong, hitting an impressive .313/.380/.570 from July 1 through the end of the season, including 12 of his 22 HR in just 55 games.

Rodriguez has as much raw power as anyone in the organization, and can really put on a show in batting practice. He has legit 7 raw power, especially to the pull side. His hit tool is closer to a 4+ or 5 though, so his in-game power isn’t going to play to that level unless he can make more consistent contact. He’s always going to have some swing and miss in his game though, as he tends to sell out for power over just trying to put the bat on the ball. He has a long swing with a deep load which both generates his power and makes it difficult for him to hit for a high average. Rodriguez struck out 142 times last season alone, 2nd most in the Midwest League behind only his teammate Clint Frazier. He did draw 60 walks to help offset the strikeouts, but he’s going to have to improve his pitch recognition and selection as he moves up the minor league ladder. Pitchers have had success tying him up with hard stuff up and in, then going down and away with offspeed pitches to catch him off-balance. Rodriguez should get better the more he’s exposed to professional pitching. He has a high baseball IQ and should be able to adjust to sequencing with more experience.

Defensively, Rodriguez is limited to 1B in the field. He was a catcher in high school though, and has an outstanding arm for a 1B. He has soft hands and good feet, and does a nice job digging throws out of the dirt at first. He’s not going to be a Gold Glove contender, but he’s not going to be a liability in the field either. Rodriguez isn’t going to offer much on the bases either; he’s 0-2 in stolen base attempts as a professional. All of the value is going to be locked up in his bat, so he’s going to have to slug his way to the major leagues.

After succeeding in the Midwest League last year, Rodriguez is going to be challenged again in another pitcher-friendly league in 2015. He’ll likely play the entire season in Lynchburg, and the Carolina League is well-known to suppress offense. Rodriguez will slot into the middle of a talented Lynchburg order, and will be counted on to provide plenty of pop again this season. He’s still by no means a sure thing to make it to the majors, but I’m a lot more encouraged after his impressive power display in 2014.

Glass half-full: A slugging 1B in the middle of a major league order
Glass half-empty: His contact issues doom him to a career in the minor leagues

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
12. Mike Papi, OF/1B
DOB: 9/19/1992
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 190 lb.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 1st round competitive balance pick in the 2014 MLB draft
2014 Stats: .181/.301/.271 with 3 HR and 18 RBI in 41 games between short-season Mahoning Valley and low-A Lake County

Scouting Report: Selected with the Indians “competitive balance lottery” pick at #38 overall, Papi signed and appeared in just 2 games for Mahoning Valley before being moved up to low-A Lake County. He struggled to find his swing with the Captains, putting up just a .579 OPS in 39 games in the Midwest League. Papi did flash signs of what made him a top-40 draft pick, as he popped 3 HR and walked 26 times. But he also struck out 32 times and hit just .178, struggling in his first extended experience swinging wooden bats.

Papi was a dominant hitter for the University of Virginia, hitting .307/.439/.488 with 11 HR as a junior. For his career as a Cavalier, he walked 121 times against just 88 strikeouts, showing an advanced approach and the ability to recognize secondary stuff in the ACC. He has plus bat speed, and above-average pull power. He can turn on pretty much any fastball that’s thrown his way, and pitchers have learned that they need to work on the outside part of the plate when attacking him. He has strong wrists and quick hands, and a pretty swing from the left side. He was able to drive the ball the other way in college, but talent evaluators are torn on whether or not he’ll be able to show above-average opposite field power as a pro. His hit tool will grade out higher than his raw power, but that power will be able to play in games due to Papi’s approach and ability to consistently put the bat on the ball. Initial results aside, Papi has solid swing fundamentals and should be able to make the necessary adjustments to hit in professional baseball.

Defensively, Papi is probably a LF long-term. He spent most of his time in Lake County in RF, but projects better to LF due to his range and athleticism. He has below-average speed and doesn’t cover a ton of ground in the OF, and there are those (Keith Law) who think that Papi will eventually need to move to 1B. He does have a decent arm, so he’ll get a shot to play RF until he forces himself off the position, but his ultimate future is in left.

At this point in his career, Papi just needs more exposure to professional pitching. The raw tools are all there, they just need time to catch up and adjust to the more advanced pitching he’s seeing at this level. He’ll play all of the 2015 season as a 22-year old, and should open with high-A Lynchburg. He has the potential to move quickly through the system, and while he doesn’t have a sky-high ceiling, he also has a pretty high floor. Papi is going to hit, it’s just a matter of how much the power ends up playing. He could be a guy who hits .290 with 20 HR in left field as a professional, something that’s pretty valuable in today’s game.

Glass half-full: A slower Michael Brantley
Glass half-empty: A slower David Murphy

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
11. James Ramsey, OF
DOB: 12/19/1989
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 190 lb.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: In a 2014 trade with St. Louis in exchange for Justin Masterson
2014 Stats: .295/.382/.509 with 16 HR and 52 RBI in 95 games between AA Springfield and AAA Columbus

Scouting Report: Ramsey was 1st round pick (23rd overall) of the St. Louis Cardinals back in the 2012 draft. A collegiate star at Florida State, Ramsey made an immediate impact in the Cards org, hitting 16 HR in 2013 while playing in three separate levels in their system. He was putting together another solid season for AA Springfield last year, hitting .300/.389/.527 with 13 HR in 67 games before the Indians acquired him in exchange for former ace Justin Masterson last July. The Indians assigned him straight to AAA Columbus, where he hit a solid .284/.365/.468 with 3 HR in 28 International League contests. For his career, he’s posted a .807 OPS with 35 HR in 285 minor league games.

At the plate, Ramsey has a smooth stroke from the left side of the plate. He has a level, line drive swing that doesn’t have a ton of loft, but does a nice job generating consistent contact. When he’s going well, he’s sitting back and hitting the ball where it’s pitched, spraying line drives to all fields. Ramsey gets into trouble when he starts selling out for power and trying to pull everything, as hitting 30+ HR just isn’t his game. His power is probably a tick above average, and should play to that level thanks to his above average hit tool. If he hit right-handed, he would probably start the season in Cleveland to add versatility to the all-lefty outfield of Bourn, Brantley and Murphy.

Defensively, Ramsey has above-average speed and an above-average arm. He’s been primarily a centerfielder throughout his career, and can handle any of the outfield positions. His bat profiles best in center, but he’s an ideal 4th OF who can give anyone a day off at any time. Interestingly, veteran scout Bernie Pleskoff suggested prior to the 2014 season that the Cardinals move Ramsey to 2B in order to maximize his value (and get out of the logjam of OF in the Cards org). That never occurred, and it’s unlikey to happen in the Indians organization, but it’s encouraging that a guy like Pleskoff thinks that Ramsey has the athletic ability to handle that switch. He has decent speed but isn’t a huge threat on the bases, stealing 28 bags in 36 attempts throughout his career (but just 5 SB in 2014).

Ramsey is very close to a finished product, and will play the entire 2015 season as a 25-year old. He’s going to open the season in Columbus, and could move to Cleveland at any point if injury or ineffectiveness opens the door. He’s a high-character player with outstanding makeup, and should be able to get the most out of his tools throughout his career. He doesn’t have an incredibly high ceiling, but he has a really high floor, as no talent evaluator that I’ve talked to or read has projected him as anything less than a 4th OF at the major league level. That’s still a pretty valuable player, especially one who’s under club control for at least 6 years once he reaches The Show. Expect to see him have at least a cup of coffee in Cleveland this year, and he could be in the Indians outfield in one role or another until at least 2020. 

Glass half-full: A 2nd-division starting CF

Glass half-empty: A 1st-division 4th OF


Mark said...

Tremendous writeups as usual, Al. Nice to see Papi so high on your list despite his LC struggles. Some fans were ready to push the panic button last August but it's good to hear the Tribe is challenging him with the Lynchburgh assignment.

Speaking of the 2014 Draft, are you as high on the Tribe's class as some of the national guys are? I've seen a few respected commentators call it the best in MLB. I'm betting a few guys from said class will round out your tiop 10 so I'm looking forward to the next few days!

Al Ciammaichella said...

Thanks Mark! Glad you're enjoying them. I'm guessing Papi will be in Lynchburg, but no insider info on that just yet. He's a pretty polished bat, and some struggles in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League after he'd already completed a long college season are nothing to worry about.

Yeah, I love the 2014 draft class. I don't know enough about the rest of the league to make a really informed determination about their national rank (I just don't see much, if any of these guys as amateurs), but it's definitely one of their better classes. Zimmer, Sheffield, Bradley and Hockin are all in my top-30, and Hentges could easily be there next season. I'm excited to get a look at these guys this year, and am glad several of them will be in Lynchburg so I can get plenty of exposure to them throughout the season. Thanks again!