Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lake County Captains Preview

The Lake County Captains, the low-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, will be the most exciting team in the system to watch this year. Led by former catcher Dave Wallace, who managed the Mahoning Valley Scrappers last year, the Captains will have my number 1, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 14 prospects in the organization on the opening day roster, and the number 2 guy (RHP Dillon Howard) will likely be there before the all-star break. This team is going to have loads of talent and be a LOT of fun for fans in Northeast Ohio to watch in 2012. So let’s take a look at some of the players the Captains will start off the season with, where they’re going to be playing and what we can expect to see out of them as the season progresses. Anytime a player is listed with a number in parentheses, it’s the overall rank of the player in my offseason organizational top prospect ranking.

Both of the backstops who will start out 2012 in Lake County spent a significant part of the 2011 season there as well. Both Alex Lavisky (#23) and Alex Monsalve (#50) appeared in at least 49 games for the Captains, and both will be back in 2012. Lavisky is the better prospect, as his power and defense combination is tantalizing, but Monsalve had the better season at the plate last year. Look for Lavisky to feature an improved approach at the plate and a shorter swing this year, as both his pitch recognition and long swing led to his struggles with professional pitching last season.

The Captains outfield is expected to feature LeVon Washington (#8), Luigi Rodriguez (#10) and Bryson Myles (#38) as the starters. One word to describe this outfield; fast. All three of those guys have above-average to plus speed, with Washington and Rodriguez being two of the fastest players in the system. Myles is an above-average runner, but is also one of the best baserunners in the system, a guy who stole 53 bases in college and then 20 more as a professional last year. So there shouldn’t be a lot of balls falling in the gaps between these three.

Washington had a tough year at the plate last year, struggling both with injuries and the adjustment to professional baseball. He’s one of the most talented players in the system though, and is a real breakout candidate in 2012. Rodriguez is a burner, probably the fastest player in the organization right now, but is still learning to play the outfield. The converted 2B has true top of the order skills, as what he lacks in power he makes up for in hitting ability and speed. Myles is the old man of the group at age 22, but he’s a guy who made the New York-Penn League all-star team last year and is no slouch with the stick himself. Overall, it’s an exciting trio, one that should keep fans entertained throughout the season.

If you thought the Captains’ outfield was exciting, wait till you hear about the infield. Headlining both the team and the IF is shortstop Francisco Lindor (#1). Lindor is already an elite defender and an above-average hitter. None of his tools have a future grade of lower than average. The switch-hitter could be a force both defensively and offensively for the Indians for years to come. He’ll play the entire 2012 season as an 18-year old, but you’d never know it when watching him in action out on the diamond. Everything he does just looks so natural, so smooth that he plays at a level far above his age. The pitcher-friendly Midwest League is a tough environment for a kid straight out of high school, but the Indians think he can handle the aggressive assignment, and so do I.

Lindor’s doubleplay partner will be athletic infielder Robel Garcia (#12). Garcia is an intriguing young prospect who could be a power and defense guy down the road. He’s 19, was originally a shortstop, and put up a .915 OPS in the Arizona Summer League last offseason. He needs to work on his pitch recognition and approach, but a player at his age with his skill set offers a lot of potential down the road.

Manning the corners for the Captains will be a combination of Jerrud Sabourin at 1B with Leo Castillo and Jordan Smith (#43) at the hot corner. Castillo was one of the stars of spring training, as the 18 year old showed up with some strength on what was a fairly skinny frame, and is a player who is almost assured of being a top-30 guy next season. Smith, who will also play some OF, put up a .300/.403/.391 line for short season Mahoning Valley last year, and can really hit.

The front end of the Captains rotation is loaded, with righty Felix Sterling (#11) and lefty Elvis Araujo (#14) acting as the headliners. Both are big, young, strong kids who have really high ceilings, but also have a lot to prove as their professional experience is extremely limited. Sterling got some exposure to the Midwest League last year as an 18-year old, and struggled a little but wasn’t bad. Araujo is 20, and has yet to throw a pitch above short-season ball due to injuries. The big southpaw has already had Tommy John surgery, but is healthy and was throwing his fastball between 91-94 this spring.

Rounding out the rotation will be Kyle Blair (#33), Joe Colon and Will Roberts. Blair began 2011 as a Captain, but struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness and ended up in the complex leagues before working his way back to the Lake County bullpen. He’s still seen as a starter long-term though, and will be given another shot at the rotation which he should make the most out of if he’s healthy this year. Colon was a 12th round pick out of Puerto Rico in 2009 while Roberts was a 5th round selection last year. Roberts had a solid season for Mahoning Valley after he signed last year, going 1-3 with a 3.27ERA, 29 K and 7 BB in 41 1/3 IP.

The Lake County bullpen will be a crowded one in 2012, as the Captains are electing to go with a 13-man pitching staff. One of the most talented pitchers in the pen will be big righty Cole Cook, a 5th round pick in 2010. Cook started 19 games for the Captains last year, going 5-11 with a 4.54 ERA in 105 IP. He’ll be the long man out of the pen and a guy who “piggybacks” on other starters when they are scheduled to go less than half the game as is commonplace in the minors. Joining Cook will be LHP Kyle Petter and RHP’s Jordan Cooper, Shawn Armstrong, Mason Radeke, Cody Anderson, Xavier De Los Santos, and Franciso Valera. Anderson is the big arm in the group, but Petter is a guy to watch as well. The lefty only threw 7 2/3 innings for Mahoning Valley last year, but managed to record two saves while striking out 14, walking 5 and allowing just two hits.

Three Things to Watch
Francisco Lindor. He’s the top prospect in the organization, was the team’s 1st round draft pick last year, and is a kid who really has fun and plays the game the right way. He’s a great role model for any little infielder you might have in the house.

Alex Lavisky. After a rough year at the plate last year, see if you can notice any improvement in pitch recognition. If nothing else, watch him behind the plate because his defense is solid.

Dillon Howard (once he gets there). The #2 prospect in the organization and a potential front of the rotation starter, Howard will be an important player for the system going forward. 


Nick said...

Saw the Captains play last night and wow are they exciting! LeVon and Francisco are worth the price of admission for sure! Francisco looks as polished as any 18 year old I've ever seen. For instance, his first at bat w/ LeVon on 1st, he laid a BEAUTIFUL bunt right down 3rd baseline for a hit.

Al Ciammaichella said...

Exactly. This is an exciting team to watch, top to bottom. Washington, Lindor, Rodriguez, Lavisky, Sterling, Araujo...if I could pick one team in the system to follow this year, it would without a doubt be the Captains. Glad you made it out there already, I'm jealous!