Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Indians Prospect Countdown: #20-16

Photo Credit: Fred Robelo
20. Grant Hockin, RHP
DOB: 3/5/1996
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 200 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 2nd round pick in the 2014 MLB draft
2014 stats: 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA, 19 K and 4 BB in 21 IP for the Rookie League Arizona Indians

Scouting Report: The Indians selected Hockin in the 2nd round of last year’s draft, and was their 4th overall selection. He was the 61st pick in the draft out of Damien High School in California, and signed for an over-slot $1.1 million bonus, breaking his commitment to pitch for UCLA. Hockin has rich baseball bloodlines, as he is the grandson of MLB Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. While Killebrew was a slugging OF/corner INF, Hockin is a big, strong starting pitching prospect. His senior year in high school, Hocking posted a 1.49 ERA with 99 K and 17 BB in 80 innings of work. He carried that over to the rookie-level Arizona Indians, racking up 19 K and just 4 BB in 21 innings as a professional.

Hockin has a four-pitch repertoire that he delivers from a high ¾ arm slot, throwing a two-seam fastball, slider, changeup and a curveball. The fastball sits in the 89-91 MPH range and has touched 93. It has nice arm-side run, and scouts agree that Hockin will pick up a couple of ticks on his fastball as he adds strength to his 6’4” frame. His slider is above-average and projects as a potential plus pitch. It’s a hard, biting offering that sits in the low to mid-80’s. His changeup is his third pitch, and it has nice action down and away from right-handed hitters, almost like a splitter. Hockin’s curveball is just a show pitch at this point, and scouts have speculated that he may scrap the curve entirely in favor of his other three offerings.

Hockin is a good athlete with a projectable frame and a nice feel for pitching considering his age and experience level. He’s a long ways away from the major leagues, and still has to improve his command and control while refining his secondary offerings. He’s going to play the entire 2015 season as a 19 year old, and will remain in extended spring training at least until the short-season New York-Penn League opens in June. If he shows progress in Arizona before then, he could be a member of the Scrappers rotation. But there’s a good chance that he spends all of 2015 in Arizona and then makes his full-season debut in Lake County in 2016. He’s an intriguing arm with a lot of upside, but it’s going to be a while before the Indians really know what they have with Hockin.

Glass half-full: A potential #2/3 starter in a major league rotation
Glass half-empty: A backend starter or bullpen arm

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
19. Cody Anderson, RHP
DOB: 9/14/1990
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 220 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 14th round pick in the 2012 MLB draft
2014 stats: 4-11 with a 5.44 ERA, 81 K and 45 BB in 125 2/3 IP for AA Akron

Scouting Report: Anderson was the Indians minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 after he posted a sterling 2.34 ERA and a 3.16 K/BB ratio in 23 starts for high-A Carolina as a 22-year old. Promoted to AA Akron for the 2014 season, Anderson couldn’t repeat his success in the more hitter-friendly Eastern League, more than doubling his ERA to 5.44 and winning just 4 of his 25 starts. Anderson missed fewer bats and walked more hitters, gave up more hits, and allowed more HR, all in nearly the same amount of innings he had thrown in 2014. It was a step back in every way, and it’ll be interesting to see how the now-24 year old bounces back in 2015.

Anderson throws a sinking fastball that sits in the low-90’s with a little arm-side run, and can touch 95. When he’s locating it down in the zone, he uses it to induce weak contact and a lot of groundouts. He lost command of the fastball last year, leaving the ball up in the zone and hittable. He’s never going to be a big strikeout guy, as he doesn’t have the arm to reach back and throw his fastball by hitters. If he’s not able to keep it  down, he’s going to get hit hard. Anderson also throws a slider, curveball and changeup. The slider is his best secondary pitch, showing nice tilt and depth. It’s the closest thing he has to a true swing-and-miss offering, but he can’t afford to throw it outside of the zone when he’s behind in the count. His curveball is a nice change of pace offering that can change the eye level on hitters, but is still inconsistent and can sometimes flatten out, getting loose and slurvy. The changeup lags behind his other pitches, and he tends to telegraph the pitch with his arm speed. It lacks deception at this stage of his development, and will have to improve if he wants it to be a legitimate fourth option.

Anderson struggled on the mound last year for basically the first time in his life. He’s been a command and control guy who induced soft contact, but last year his fastball command deserted him, and everything went downhill from there. Falling behind hitters early in the count forced Anderson to throw his fastball up in the zone, and he got hit hard as a result. He allowed 17 HR in 125 innings after giving up just 16 bombs in 239 innings from 2012-13. If the issue is mechanical with Anderson, hopefully he and the Indians pitching coaches can identify and fix it before the 2015 regular season. He has the size and the stuff to be an innings-eating #3/4 pitcher in a major league rotation, but he’s not going to get there unless he can regain his command. He’ll be 24 this year and a member of the Columbus Clippers rotation this year, and needs to prove that 2014 was just a blip on the radar and not a trend moving forward.

Glass half-full: A solid but unspectacular back-end starter
Glass half-empty: A #5 or a swingman out of the bullpen

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
18. Carlos Moncrief, OF
DOB: 11/3/1988
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 220 lb.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 14th round pick in the 2008 MLB draft
2014 Stats: .271/.328/.431 with 12 HR and 63 RBI in 132 games with AAA Columbus

Scouting Report: The converted pitcher has himself on the cusp of the major leagues after a solid season with AAA Columbus last year. Moncrief posted a solid but unspectacular .759 OPS for the Clippers, and that marked the first season since his move to the outfield that Moncrief didn’t improve on his OPS from the previous year. He also stole a career-low 8 bases (in a career-low 11 attempts), suggesting that speed may not be a big part of his game at the next level. His walk-rate dropped and strikeout-rate jumped, and his .328 OBP represented a career-low in a full-season league.

At the plate, Moncrief has above-average raw power and an average hit tool. The power won’t play in game to the level it does in batting practice, but he has enough pop to project 15-20 HR in a full season’s worth of at-bats. He’s made remarkable progress as a hitter since moving off the mound in 2010, going from a ~.230 hitter in 2010/11 to a .270 hitter in 2013/14. He hits lefties almost as well as righties, putting up a .740 OPS against same-siders and a .770 OPS against righties last year. He’s a patient hitter with a solid approach, and does a nice job waiting on his pitch and not chasing outside the zone. He’s at his best when he’s sitting back and taking the ball to all fields, but generates most of his power from the RF gap to the foul pole. 

One aspect of Moncrief’s game that did not regress in 2014 was his defense, as he recorded a career-high 22 outfield assists in 129 games in the Clippers’ outfield. As you’d expect from a converted pitcher, Moncrief has a plus arm in the outfield, showing impressive power and carry. It’s a weapon in the OF, and the arm plus his above-average speed makes Moncrief an ideal RF. He’s racked up 18 or more OF assists in every season since 2011, showing that minor league advanced-scouting lags far behind its major league cousin, as runners just haven’t learned not to test him quite yet. He’s a solid defender in an outfield corner, but doesn’t really have the chops to handle CF on more than a fill-in basis.

Moncrief’s developmental arc is pretty much complete. He’ll play the 2015 season as a 26-year old, 
and has always been a little old for his level owing to the two lost seasons that he spent on the pitcher’s mound. Moncrief has more or less reached a plateau; I don’t see him making major strides at the plate at this point in his career. He’s ready to play in Cleveland if the need arises, but is behind James Ramsey in the AAA OF pecking order. Moncrief could be a decent short-term option, but doesn’t look like he’s ever going to be a consistent starter at the major league level.

Glass half-full: A solid 4th OF
Glass half-empty: A career AAA guy with an occasional cup of coffee in the show

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
17. Eric Haase, C
DOB: 12/18/1992
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 180 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 7th round pick in the 2011 MLB draft
2014 Stats: .255/.338/.514 with 17 HR and 48 RBI in 93 games between low-A Lake County and High-A Carolina

Scouting Report: Selected in the 7th round of the 2011 draft, the man who was named Michigan’s “Mr. Baseball” as a high school senior was wooed away from his commitment to The Ohio State University with an over-slot $580,000 signing bonus. Haase has moved slowly through the system, repeating low-A Lake County for much of the 2014 season. He popped 16 HR in 77 games with the Captains last year, posting a .852 OPS. He was called up to the high-A Carolina Mudcats to finish out the season, and struggled to the tune of a .535 OPS in 16 Carolina League games.

At the plate, Haase has above-average power and an average hit tool. His opposite-field power in particular is impressive for a player with his experience, something that Haase says came from pitchers trying to work around him when he was in high school. Haase had to learn to hit the ball where it was pitched, because it was a rare occurrence for him to see something on the inner half as a prep player in Michigan. He has quick, strong hands and can let the ball travel deep into the hitting zone before deciding whether or not to swing, and does a nice job staying inside the baseball and using all fields. He’s a career .254 hitter in 950 minor league plate appearances, with a .456 SLG (34 HR). If he can continue to refine and improve his hit tool, his raw power will play at a higher level and Haase could be a solid offensive performer.

Defensively, Haase has the tools to be a solid catcher. He has good feet and moves well behind the plate. He allowed 20 passed balls in 755 chances last year, an improvement on the 12 PB in 582 chances in 2013. His caught stealing % went down in 2014, as he threw out 35 of 116 would-be basestealers (30%), down from 36 % in 2013. His pop times are pretty consistently in the 2.0-2.2 second range, and needs to get that more towards 1.8-2.0. His arm is plenty strong enough to get down to that range, he just has to continue to refine and clean up his actions and footwork in order to shave those precious tenths of a second off of his throws to 2B.

Haase struggled in his Carolina League debut last year, but 16 games is hardly a large enough sample size to make a legitimate judgment. He’ll start off back in Lynchburg in 2015, and as a 22-year old catcher is still on schedule for his rise through the organization. Catchers tend to develop more slowly than other positions around the diamond, and Haase is going to be a level at a time guy throughout his career. He’s a better prospect than his numbers indicate, and one of those guys in the organization that I’m probably higher on than most.

Glass half-full: An offense-oriented starting catcher
Glass half-empty: An offense-oriented backup catcher

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
16. Dylan Baker, RHP
DOB: 4/6/1992
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 215 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 5th round pick in the 2012 MLB draft
2014 Stats: 3-3 with a 4.05 ERA, 28 K and 18 BB in 46 2/3 IP for high-A Carolina

Scouting Report: Baker got off to a hot start in 2014, throwing six perfect innings in his first outing of the season on April 8. I was lucky enough to be in attendance for that game in Frederick, and Baker was (as you’d expect) extremely impressive. He had all three of his pitches working, was spotting the ball extremely well throughout the strike zone, and had the Keys hitters flailing at his breaking ball. I came away from that game extremely impressed with the young righthander, and fully expected that he’d move up to Akron before the end of the season. Unfortunately, Baker broke his right ankle before his next start and didn’t appear in another full-season game until July 21 when he made it back to Carolina. It was a wasted summer for Baker, but he was at least able to get back on the mound for the last month+ of the season, and then got some innings in with the Arizona Fall League in an attempt to make up for lost time.

When he is on the mound, Baker throws a fastball, curveball and changeup. The fastball sits consistently between 91-94, and can touch 97. The pitch has nice natural sink to it, and Baker uses it more to induce weak contact than as a true swing-and-miss offering. He does occasionally like to change the eye-level on a hitter and pump a high fastball by him after setting him up with fastballs down in the zone early in the count. His primary secondary offering is the power curve, a pitch that is still a little inconsistent but can flash plus. It’s a sharp offering with nice two-plane break, and I’ve seen it make a couple of hitters look awfully foolish. It can also get loose and slurvy, hanging up in the zone and hittable. In addition to the curveball, Baker is developing a changeup that’s a work in progress and not yet a reliable offering. The development of that third pitch is make or break Baker as a starter. He won’t be able to pitch deep into games without it, even if he does have two above-average to plus offerings in the fastball and curveball.

Right now, Baker needs innings more than anything else. He turns 23 two days before the minor league season opens, and because of the injury last year he’s thrown fewer than 200 professional innings outside of the complex league. There should still be plenty of life left in his arm, as he didn’t exactly wear it down in while in high school up in Juneau, Alaska. Innings will help Baker improve his secondary offerings, and the Indians are going to keep him in the rotation until he proves he can’t make it there. If he continues to improve and refine the curveball and (especially) the changeup, Baker could turn into a solid middle of the rotation starter. If not, he could be an effective two-pitch pitcher out of a major league bullpen. Either way, it’ll be good to see Baker back healthy and on the mound again. He’ll likely open back in high-A with Lynchburg, but expect him to see time with AA Akron no later than July.

Glass half-full: A solid #3/4 starter in a major league rotation
Glass half-empty: A two-pitch late inning reliever

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