Friday, March 06, 2015

Indians Prospect Countdown: #5-1

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
5. Giovanny Urshela, 3B
DOB: 10/11/1991
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 197 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: International free agent in 2008
2014 Stats: .280/.334/.491 with 18 HR and 84 RBI in 128 games between AA Akron and AAA Columbus

Scouting Report: Long one of my favorite under-the-radar players in the organization, Urshela broke out with the best offensive season of his career in 2014. Urshela set a career single-season high in OPS, HR, RBI, 2B, BB…pretty much every offensive category across the board. He’s always been an elite defender, and the step forward with the bat last year turned him into a legitimate top-10 prospect in the organization. He began the season back in AA Akron, putting up a .914 OPS with 5 HR in just 24 games. Promoted quickly to AAA Columbus, the 22-year old Urshela didn’t miss a beat. He had an .804 OPS with 13 HR in 104 AAA games, showing the type of offensive acumen that makes him a legitimate two-way prospect.

At the plate, Urshela was known as a contact-oriented hitter who would sit back and try to hit the ball where it was pitched. But last year, Urshela started driving the ball to all fields with more authority, a consequence of having added 10-15 pounds of muscle over the offseason. In spring training last year, I noticed his ability to go the other way with power more than in the past, as he’d get his arms out on pitches out and over the plate and hit them to right field with authority. The ball was just carrying off his bat better than I’d seen in the past, and that was a harbinger of things to come in the regular season. Urshela still doesn’t profile to have a ton of power at the major league level, but 15-20 HR are not out of the question. Urshela has a smooth, level swing, and doesn’t try to do too much with the ball. He doesn’t sell out for power, and as a result will make plenty of contact. He’s not going to work the count, walking just 109 times in 601 career minor league games. He’s an aggressive hitter who’s going to be challenged by pitchers who aren’t afraid of his power, and as a result he’s just not going to walk very often.

Defensively, Urshela does everything well. He has soft hands, quick feet and a strong arm. He’s got great instincts, and always seems to be in the right place to make the play. He’s got Gold Glove potential at the hot corner, something that Indians fans are desperate to see after sub-par defense of Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana at 3rd base in 2014. His defense has been his calling card throughout his rise in the Indians system, and it’s what has him added to the 40-man roster heading into 2015.

Urshela is on the cusp of the major leagues, having found success at the AAA level in 2014. He’ll be 23 years old for the entire 2015 season, so there’s really no reason to rush him to The Show this year. Urshela’s timetable will depend almost as much on Lonnie Chisenhall as on Urshela himself. If Chisenhall gets off to a sizzling start similar to 2014, Urshela will remain in Columbus for most of the season. If Chiz’s dismal 2nd half carries over into 2015, we could see Urshela before the all-star break. Even if he doesn’t do much with the bat, Urshela’s glove can help the Indians in 2015 and beyond. We saw what happened to the club in 2014 when Jose Ramriez’s adequate defense replaced Asdrubal Cabrera’s dismal D, and a move from Chisenhall to Urshela could have a similar effect in 2015.

Glass half-full: A Gold Glove 3B with 18 HR annually
Glass half-empty: A solid defender at 3B who never hits enough to be an everyday guy

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
4. Francisco Mejia, C
DOB: 10/27/1995
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 175 lb.
Bats/Throws: Switch/Right
Acquired: International free agent in 2012
2014 Stats: .282/.339/.407 with 2 HR and 36 RBI in 66 games with short-season Mahoning Valley

Scouting Report: Mejia is one of the most exciting prospects in the Indians organization, but he’s also has the biggest gap between his current and future projection. Catchers generally have a high fail rate as prospects, partially because they face a much longer road to the majors than any other position. But Mejia’s tantalizing package of tools is too special to ignore, which is why he ranks 4th on this list. He’s the rare catching prospect that could be a force both at the plate and behind it.

At the plate, Mejia is a switch-hitter with impressive bat speed from both sides of the plate. He’s not a big guy, but his forearms are the size of most people’s biceps, providing for extremely strong wrists and an insanely quick bat. There’s raw power in his swing that hasn’t shown up in games yet, but that’s to be expected when you’re talking about a teenager. He has an ultra-aggressive approach from both sides, and a lot of his at-bats end on the first pitch. He’s going to have to clean that up as he advances through the system, and is going to struggle with exposure to advanced breaking balls. Better pitchers are going to exploit his aggressiveness, and few will challenge him with fastballs until he can do a better job recognizing spin.

On the defensive side of the ledger, Mejia simply has the best arm I’ve ever seen up-close. I’m not comparing him to Pudge Rodriguez, Johnny Bench or Yadier Molina because I’ve never stood 10 feet away and watch them throw. But I’ve seen every catcher in the Indians org for the last 5 years, plus plenty of other guys from around baseball on minor league fields around the country. And I’ve never seen anything quite like Francisco Mejia throwing a ball to 2B. His footwork isn’t especially clean, and his actions still need to be refined a little, but that arm…my God. I had him popping in the 1.8-1.9 range consistently, and the scary thing is that he should be able to improve on those times once he addresses the footwork/transfer issues. He projects to be the type of catcher who can control the opposition’s running game by himself, allowing his pitchers to focus on the guy at the plate rather than worry about the baserunners. His glove itself is still a little raw, as he still stabs at pitches that miss his target rather than receiving and framing them. But he has soft hands and should improve over time, so it’s not something I’m worried about effecting his long-term projection at this stage of his development. He moves well behind the plate, and should be more than adequate dealing with pitches in the dirt after (you guessed it) more reps.

Patience, patience, patience. That’s what the Indians (and their fans) will need to exercise with Mejia. He’ll likely spend all of 2015 as a 19-year old catcher in the Midwest League, an aggressive assignment that will test all phases of his game. His stats might not blow you away at the end of the season, but he if can stick in the Lake County lineup for the season, it’ll be considered a win for his development. Catchers take longer to develop than other positions due to the many nuances involved in baseball’s most difficult position. Mejia has a chance to be really special, but it’s not going to happen overnight.

Glass half-full: An all-star, Gold Glove catcher
Glass half-empty: He might not make it above AAA

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
3. Bradley Zimmer, OF
DOB: 11/27/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 185 lb.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 1st round pick in the 2014 MLB draft
2014 Stats: .302/.400/.492 with 6 HR and 32 RBI in 48 games between short-season Mahoning Valley (45 G) and low-A Lake County (3 G)

Scouting Report: Zimmer was the 21st overall pick for the Indians in last June’s draft, and most prognosticators were surprised that he fell that far. Zimmer was projected as a possible top-10 pick prior to the draft, and the Indians were thrilled to snatch him up in the back end of the 1st round. Zimmer hit .368/.461/.573 with a team-high 7 HR and 31 RBI in 2014 for the San Francisco Dons, swiping 21 bases in 32 attempts and showing an ability to handle CF. Prior to the draft, ESPN’s Keith Law and Chris Crawford identified him as the “highest-ceiling” collegiate bat in the 2014 class.

Zimmer has a big, athletic frame that looks like it’d generate more power than it does. He has a consistent swing from the left side, but it’s a pretty flat plane that doesn’t result in a lot of backspin on the ball. As a result, he has more doubles power than HR power right now, but it’s easy to look at the 6’4” Zimmer and project an uptick in pop as he fills out and makes adjustments to his swing at the professional level. Zimmer did hit 2 HR in 3 games with Lake County, an impressive showing in an admittedly tiny small-sample last season. I think he ends up as at least a 15-20 HR guy, and that’s pretty valuable if he can stay in the middle of the outfield. He has an advanced approach and does a nice job picking out his pitch and driving it early in the count, but that’s going to be challenged as he progresses through the system and gets exposed to better breaking stuff.

In the field, Zimmer’s size actually works against him, as many scouts see him as a little awkward in the field and project a move to an OF corner by the time he reaches the show. His arm is above-average and will play wherever he ends up. His speed is a tick above average, so he’s not the type of guy who can afford to take bad routes and outrun his mistakes in center. If he does wind up in an OF corner (likely RF), then the power is going to have to improve if he wants to be a 1st-division regular.

Zimmer is one of those players that projects to be average or above-average across the board, but doesn’t have one single tool that really jumps out at you. That’s still a very valuable player, but it’s not a future star. If everything goes right, he could be a power-hitting CF who also hits for a high average. But that’s a perfect-world projection, and we’re living in reality. In all probability, Zimmer will bulk up, slow down a step, and move to an OF corner. He’ll open the season with low-A Lake County and will probably be ready for a call-up at some point in 2015. But CF is crowded in the Indians system, so he’ll either have to move to a corner in high-A or skip the Carolina League entirely and jump right up to AA Akron. He’s an advanced hitter with great makeup, a hard worker who will get the most out of his considerable talents. He could be patrolling the outfield at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario as soon as 2017.

Glass half-full: Zimmer sticks in CF and produces like Michael Brantley (pre-2014)
Glass half-empty: Zimmer slides to a corner and produces like David Murphy, v. 2014

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
2. Clint Frazier, OF
DOB: 9/6/1994
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 190 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 1st round pick in the 2013 MLB draft
2014 Stats: .266/.349/.411 with 13 HR and 50 RBI in 120 games for low-A Lake County

Scouting Report: Frazier was the top high school bat in the 2013 draft, and the Indians snagged him with the 5th overall pick. He signed quickly, and put up an .868 OPS in 44 games in the complex league as an 18-year old in 2013. It was an impressive debut, and the Indians pushed Frazier straight up to the low-A Midwest League in 2014. Frazier dealt with some minor hamstring issues in spring training last year, and didn’t really get as many at-bats in Goodyear as he would’ve liked. He didn’t debut in Lake County until mid-April, and got off to a slow start in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Frazier hit just .241/.335/.329 with 1 HR and 12 RBI in April and May, showing none of the power that made him a top-5 pick in the draft. But the Georgia native would heat up with the weather, hitting an impressive .280/.358/.457 (.815 OPS) with 12 HR and 38 RBI in 78 games from June 1 through the end of the season.

It’s no coincidence that Frazier started hitting in June. He came to the professional ranks with a short toe-tap to trigger his swing, something he did all through high school and in Arizona in 2013. Tinkering with his swing in 2014, he instituted a high leg kick to “help” with his timing. The leg kick ended up throwing off his timing and he went back to the simpler toe tap, and suddenly started hitting the ball with authority again.

As far as the raw tools go, Frazier has them all in spades. He has some of the quickest hands and one of the fastest bats in the minor leagues, resulting in 7 raw power. He does a nice job barreling the ball and makes hard contact when he gets a pitch in the zone. If he can tighten up his pitch recognition and selection, his power could easily play at the 6 to 6+ level. His hit tool lags behind his raw power at this stage of his development, as he’s still working on tracking and identifying spin. He’s an extremely aggressive hitter who is used to chasing bad pitches from his high school days (when no one in their right mind would throw him a pitch in the strike zone). If he can work on his approach and do a better job laying off pitches outside the zone (particularly down and off the outside corner), Frazier can be expected to have a 5+ to 6 hit tool. If not, his susceptibility to quality breaking stuff will limit both his hit and his in-game power to a more pedestrian level.

Defensively, Frazier has all the tools to stick in CF at the major league level. He’s had some arm troubles, but touched 98 MPH off the mound in a high school showcase. He’s a plus runner, but still needs to work on reads/recognition in CF. Some scouts see a move to an OF corner down the line, but the Indians are going to give him every chance to stick in CF, for obvious reasons.

Frazier’s 2014 stat line reads like a young Latin American prospect. Lots of pop, but lots of strikeouts (166) and not enough walks (56). And it’s not like he got better as the season went along either; Frazier racked up 44 K and just 16 BB in 138 May AB. In 131 August AB, he struck out 42 times against just 13 BB. So there’s still plenty of risk here. But you look at the tantalizing package of tools, and consider the fact that he was just 19 in the difficult hitters environment of the Midwest League in 2014, and there’s quite a bit to dream on. Frazier could legitimately be a 30/30 guy in centerfield with average to above-average defense. That’s a star, and possibly an MVP candidate. Again, we’re a ways away from that ceiling, but the potential is there. Frazier should be a year-at-a-time guy on his way up the ladder, and the 20-year old should be a mainstay in the Lynchburg Hillcats lineup for the 2015 season.

Glass half-full: An all-star CF that hits in the middle of a major league lineup. Grady Sizemore with a better arm.
Glass half-empty: A corner OF with some pop.

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
1. Francisco Lindor, SS
DOB: 11/14/1993
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 175 lb.
Bats/Throws: Switch/Right
Acquired: 1st round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft
2014 Stats: .276/.338/.389 with 11 HR, 62 RBI and 28 SB in 126 games between AA Akron and AAA Columbus

Scouting Report: I mean…were you expecting anyone else at the top of this list? What more can I say about Francisco Lindor? He’s been at the #1 slot in my (and everyone else’s) rankings for the past 4 years, and the only reason he won’t be here next year is that he (should) lose his prospect eligibility in 2015. Lindor has taken on every challenge presented to him so far in his professional career, and passed them with flying colors. His offensive numbers don’t blow you away, but consider that his season OPS of  .727 was collected over 88 AA games where he was an average of 4.7 years younger than the competition, and then in an additional 38 games in AAA when he was a full 7 years younger than his counterparts. To put that in perspective, Lindor was roughly equivalent to a 5th-grader playing against high school seniors in AAA, and managed to hit more HR in 38 games in Columbus (5) than he hit in all of 2013 (2). He’s a consensus top-5 prospect in all of baseball, and the SS job in Cleveland is going to be his sooner rather than later.

Lindor opened the 2014 season where he finished 2013, back in AA Akron. He put up a .278/.352/.389 line with 6 HR and 48 RBI in 88 games with the Aeros, and stealing 25 bases in 34 attempts to boot. He walked 40 times against just 61 strikeouts, showing a mature approach for a 20-year old in the Eastern League. Promoted to AAA Columbus in July, Lindor appeared in 38 games with the Clippers to close out the season. He hit .273/.307/.388 with 5 HR and 14 RBI, but his strikeout rate jumped (36 K) and walk rate dropped (9 BB). The “struggles” at the plate are expected for a 20-year old jumping to AAA, and aren’t really concerning long-term. But it’s one reason the Indians are planning to start Lindor back in AAA this April, as his bat still has room to grow in the minor leagues.

Lindor is a switch-hitter with an advanced approach from both sides of the plate. He makes a lot of contact, and has an above-average to plus hit tool. He tracks the ball well out if the pitchers hand, and picks up spin well. His power will never be more than average, but if the Indians get 8-12 HR’s out of Lindor at his peak that’ll be plenty to compliment the rest of his profile. He has gap power and will hit for average, and the bat will provide value in its own right. By the time it’s all said and done, Lindor could end up with a 6+ hit tool and 4 power. But Lindor isn’t a top prospect merely for his work at the plate.

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
Defensively, Lindor is quite simply the best defensive shortstop in minor league baseball. He has impressive range both up the middle and into the hole. He has soft hands, excellent footwork and clean actions. He has above-average arm strength and accuracy, and does a great job throwing on the run. He has incredible instincts, and often seems to be moving to be moving towards the ball even before it’s hit. Baseball Prospectus and have both called Lindor the best infield defender in the minor leagues over the past two years, and he’s ready to contribute with the glove at the major league level right now. He could be a 7 to 7+ defender at the major league level for a long, long time. He’s a 5+ runner, but his speed plays up because of how good a baserunner he is. He steals bases because he gets great jumps, not because he’s a burner who outruns the pitcher and catcher (sort of the anti-Billy Hamilton).

In addition to his skills on the field, Lindor is a leader in the clubhouse and sets a great example with his work ethic and makeup. In addition to recognizing him as the best infield defender in the minor leagues last year, Baseball Prospectus singled out Lindor as having the “best makeup” in the minors as well. It’s a combination of intangibles that you can’t quantify in any one stat, but he helps make his entire team better on and off the field.

Lindor is slated to begin the 2015 season back in AAA Columbus, but he could be called up to Cleveland at virtually any time. If anything happens to Jose Ramirez, Lindor will be on his way north on I-71 in very short order. If not, the Indians are happy to give him a little more time to develop with the bat and keep in in the friendly confines of Huntington Park until he forces his way to Cleveland (likely sometime after the Super-Two cutoff). I really can’t stress enough how much I like this kid, and how much of an impact he could have on the Indians for the next 6 years (or hopefully more). He’s the type of guy who could be the face of the franchise, a perennial all-star and Gold Glover. He’s the total package; a solid hitter, incredible defender, plus runner and a leader on and off the field. The only thing holding him back right now is his relative lack of experience and some lingering questions about just how good the bat will end up being against major league pitching. We’re going to find out soon though, and I can’t wait to sit back and enjoy the Francisco Lindor experience.

Glass half-full: We’re gathering in Cleveland in November of 2038 for Lindor’s farewell parade when he finally retires from the Indians.

Glass half-empty: A much more adorable version of Rey Ordonez  


Adam Van Arsdale said...

When you say this about Urshela:

"A Gold Glove 3B with 18 HR annually"

How far away do you think he is from that optimistic projection, and what are the key things he needs to do offensive to get there. I ask, because in today's environment, that is an All-Star 3B...probably a 5-6 WAR player on average. That seems pretty great, considering he is just going to be 23 this year and has already spent the better part of a season at AAA.

Al Ciammaichella said...

He still needs to improve on his pitch recognition/selection, as he chases too much spin down and out of the strike zone. I think he'll still add some strength to his frame, and some of those doubles will turn into HR.

18 HR is an optimistic projection, but I think he can get there.