Thursday, March 06, 2014

Indians Prospect Countdown: #20-16

We're halfway home in our little countdown, as we've reached the top-20 prospects in the Indians organization. We're going to look at another bonus-baby pitcher who was drafted straight out of high school, an outfielder who is short on experience but long on upside, a southpaw who has a change to make an impact in the rotation this year, a potential 2014 bullpen piece and a catcher who spurned his home state of Michigan to commit to Ohio State before agreeing to start his professional career with the Indians. 

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
20. Mitch Brown, SP
DOB: 4/13/1994
Height/Weight: 6-1/195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 2nd round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: 3-5, 6.78 ERA with 66 K and 40 BB in 67 2/3 IP between low-A Lake County and the Rookie League Arizona Indians

Scouting Report: Brown is a bit of a rarity in baseball; a high draft pick from a Northern high school. Selected in the 2nd round (79th overall) out of Rochester, Minnesota in 2012, Brown was given an over-slot $800,000 signing bonus to forgo his commitment to the University of San Diego. Brown struggled in his first go-around in full-season ball last year. He opened the season in the rotation for low-A Lake County, but was sent back to extended spring training after going 1-1 with an 11.49 ERA in 5 starts with the Captains. Brown struck out an impressive 18 hitters in 15 2/3 Midwest League innings, but also struggled with his control, walking 11 and hitting 4 batters. Brown got back into the rotation with the Arizona Indians but again struggled, going 2-4 with a 5.37 ERA in 52 IP. He again struggled with his control, walking 29 in the complex leagues. It was a step back for a pitcher that many thought was coming to the professional ranks more advanced than most high school arms, but Brown’s underlying talent hasn’t gone anywhere.

Brown features a four-pitch mix, including a 4-seam fastball, a cutter, curveball and changeup. The 4-seamer sits comfortably between 92-94 MPH, and can touch 96. It has a little natural sink to it, and when he’s spotting it well it is a very effective pitch. His best secondary offering is his cutter, a pitch that really bears in on the hands of lefthanded hitters. It has the potential to be a plus pitch at the major league level, and is really a key in Brown’s development. His curveball is inconsistent but flashes plus, it just needs some more time and repetitions to develop. His changeup lags behind his other three offerings, but will at least be a show pitch for Brown to keep hitters guessing. It’s a deep arsenal that ensures Brown will remain in the rotation long-term, provided he can command those four offerings of course.

Brown is a strong kid and a good athlete who has the strength and stamina to be an innings-eater in a major league rotation. He has outstanding makeup, as scouts, coaches and teammates alike rave about his work ethic and leadership qualities. He had a rough season in 2013, and it will be interesting to see how he bounces back this season. He has the talent and the fortitude to bounce back and have a big season and put himself right back in the mix as one of the Indians top pitching prospects, and could easily be in the top 10 of this list come next offseason. He still has the talent that made him a top-50 overall prospect in the 2012 draft, and if all breaks right he could still rise as high as a #2 in a major league rotation.

Glass half-full: A #2 starter in The Show
Glass half-empty: A back-end starter in the majors

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
19. Anthony Santander, OF
DOB: 10/19/1994
Height/Weight: 6-2/190 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Switch/Right
Acquired: International free agent signed in 2011
2013 Stats: .242/.303/.370 with 5 HR and 31 RBI in 61 games for low-A Lake County

Scouting Report: Santander was one of the Indians big $$ signings in 2011, signing out of Venezuela for a $385,000 bonus. He made his stateside debut in 2012 with the Rookie League Arizona Indians, posting a .874 OPS in 43 games in the desert. The Indians got aggressive with Santander, challenging the 18-year old with an assignment to the Midwest League last year. He struggled a little at the dish, putting up just a .672 OPS and striking out 43 times against just 13 walks. But he was able to show flashes of his potential, hitting 5 HR and 13 doubles in 219 AB in what is a very pitcher-friendly league. It wasn’t a dominant season by any means, but for an 18-year old in his first taste of full-season ball, it wasn’t a disaster either.

Santander started switch hitting just a few years ago, but he’s already showing great potential from both sides of the dish. He has smooth, level swing from both sides and projects to have plus power down the road. He’s got quite a bit of room to grow into his 6’2” frame, and once he fills out his power will develop. He has a bit of natural loft in his swing, and puts some backspin on the ball to help it carry.

Defensively, Santander projects best to LF at the next level. He has decent speed, but a below-average arm and doesn’t have the defensive chops for CF. The speed will likely decrease as he fills out, so he’s a natural fit in LF. He did play all 61 games for Lake County in RF last year, so it’s clear that the Indians are trying to keep him in RF until he proves that he cannot play there. I still see him as a LF long-term, but his overall profile would tick upwards if he is able to stay in RF. Regardless of which corner OF spot he ends up in, his hitting ability and power from both sides of the plate provide a tantalizing package for an organization that has struggled to develop an impact bat in the OF. He’s probably going to repeat the low-A Midwest League to start out 2014, but could be in line for a promotion to Carolina if he can get off to a hot start with the Captains.

Glass half-full: A switch-hitting version of Michael Brantley with more pop
Glass half-empty: We’ve got a long ways to go before we get there

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
18. T.J. House, SP
DOB: 9/29/1989
Height/Weight: 6-1/205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Left
Acquired: 16th round pick in the 2008 MLB draft
2013 Stats: 9-11 with a 4.17 ERA with 137 K and 57 BB in 164 IP between AA Akron and AAA Columbus

Scouting Report: House began the 2013 season with AA Akron, but made just 4 starts in an Aeros uniform before getting promoted to AAA Columbus. He went 2-1 with the Aeros, striking out 27 and walking just 3 in 22 1/3 IP. His K rate dropped and walk rate climbed during his first stint in AAA, but posted solid numbers, especially considering that he threw most of his innings in the friendly confines of Huntington Park. He improved as the season went on, and was at his best in the months of July and August when he went a combined 6-2 with an ERA below 3, and  55 K’s to just 21 BB. He led the Clippers in both IP and strikeouts, proving resilient and effective after his rough May and June. As is typical, he was more effective against same-siders than righties. Righthanded batters hit .301 off of House, while lefties hit just .254. He’s a good athlete, repeating his delivery consistently. He’s got a high baseball IQ, and will always get the most out of his stuff on the mound.

House sets everything up with his fastball, an above-average offering that sits consistently between 91-94 MPH. It touches as high as 96, and has nice arm-side run. House works from a high ¾ arm-slot after experimenting with a move over the top delivery after he was drafted in 2011. His best secondary offering is his slider, an above-average pitch that has nice late life. It’s especially tough on lefties, and is a real swing and miss offering for him. He rounds out his repertoire with a changeup that is still a work in progress. If he can refine the changeup to the point where it is a legitimate weapon against righthanded hitters, House’s future in the rotation would be a lot clearer.

Last offseason, the Indians had the chance to roster either House or fellow southpaw T.J. McFarland. They chose the younger House, and McFarland was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Baltimore Orioles. McFarland stuck with the Orioles all season, and will be a member of their bullpen again in 2013. The Indians believe that House can start, even if it’s filling out the back end of a major league rotation. He’ll be 24 years old for the 2014 season, and while he’s almost certain to start out in the rotation for AAA Columbus, he’ll be one of the first options considered for a call-up should injury or ineffectiveness befall one or more members of the Indians starting 5.

Glass half-full: A #3/4 starter in a major league rotation
Glass half-empty: A #4/5 starter in a major league rotation

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
17. C.C. Lee, RP
DOB: 10/21/1986
Height/Weight: 5-11/190 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: International free agent signed in 2008
2013 Stats: 0-0, 4.15 ERA with 4 K and 3 BB in 4 1/3 IP for Cleveland; 1-0, 2.48 ERA with 37 K and 10 BB in 29 IP between Lake County, Akron and Columbus.

Scouting Report: Lee would’ve likely been a regular fixture in the Indians bullpen last season, but he suffered an elbow injury and was able to throw just 7 innings in 2012. Still, even after the lost season, Lee was able to climb the organizational ladder to make his major league debut last year, throwing 4 1/3 innings for the Indians out of the bullpen. He’s posted some eye-popping strikeout numbers throughout his career, racking up 323 K in 263 1/3 minor league innings, good for an even 11 strikeouts per 9 IP.

Lee attacks hitters from a variety of arm angles, working from ¾ to sidearm and everywhere in between. His fastball sits between 92-95 MPH and can touch 97. It’s impressive velocity for a guy who stands less than 6’ tall, and because of the arm angles that Lee uses the pitch has a ton of movement. His 2-seamer has a lot of arm-side run and sink, bearing in on the hands of righthanded hitters. He compliments the pitch with a plus slider, a pitch with outstanding life and tilt. The pitch is murder on righthanded hitters, and I’ve seen some very good hitters look foolish when facing the pitch. He also has a forkball that acts as his change of pace pitch. It can really dive down and away from righties, and while it’s an effective 3rd pitch it’s not the swing and miss offering that his slider has been.

Lee pretty much is what he is at this point, and has a very good chance to break camp in the Indians bullpen. He could serve in the Joe Smith role in 2014, an effective weapon to neutralize an opponent’s top righthanded hitter(s) late in the game. He’s probably never going to be a closer in the major leagues because he’s not as effective against lefties as he is against righties, but he should still be a very effective back-end arm in the new and improved Bullpen Mafia.

Glass half-full: A late-inning arm, effective against hitters on both sides of the plate
Glass half-empty: A late-inning arm, used primarily against righties

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
16. Eric Haase, C
DOB: 12/18/1992
Height/Weight: 5-10/180 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 7th round pick in the 2011 MLB draft
2013 Stats: .250/.322/.439 with 14 HR and 47 RBI in 104 games for low-A Lake County

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. He’s an example of a guy who’s projection far outpaces his actual production at this point in his career, but I’m a big believer in the tools and I think he’ll play up to this ranking.

Haase has above-average tools across the board. He has plus raw power and an above-average hit tool from the right side of the plate. 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 struggled a little last season in the difficult hitter’s environment of the Midwest League, striking out 117 times against just 40 walks. It was his first taste of full-season professional baseball, and his “struggles” are nothing to be too concerned about. For a 20-year old from a Northern High School, playing in the Midwest League, he held his own just fine.

Defensively, Haase has all the tools to be a 6 defender at the major league level. He moves well behind the plate, has quick feet and strong fundamentals. He’s worked on his throwing mechanics since turning pro, and his quick actions allow his plus arm to play to a level where it is a weapon in controlling the opposing teams’ running game. He threw out 49 of 137 would-be baserunners last year, good for a 36% caught-stealing percentage. He handles pitchers well and is a good receiver who uses his soft hands to frame pitches on the outer edges of the strike zone.

Haase has everything you look for in a catcher, as his baseball tools and intelligence all rate above-average. He’s an excellent athlete and a natural leader who is playing above his experience level right now. When he has a chance for his tools to catch up to the steep learning curve he’s on, look out. I’m a little higher on Haase than most, owing to both my love of catchers and just how impressed I was watching Haase play in Goodyear the past two seasons. He’s got a ways to go before he’s ready to contribute at the major league level, but I see an above-average catcher on both sides of the baseball once he gets there. Haase will likely move up to high-A Carolina in 2014, and will again be challenged by a notoriously difficult hitter’s league. So don’t worry if the stats don’t pop off the page; the tools are there, they just need a little seasoning.

Glass half-full: An all-star catcher

Glass half-empty: A solid backup catcher


Ryan said...

It's kind of crazy how many good young catchers the Indians have in the organization right now. There's Santana and Gomes in the majors, and then all the prospects in the minors: Perez, Lowery, Haase, Wolters, Mejia. And each brings something a bit different to the table.

hawk1228 said...

We had 2 players at Lake County who should have been attending their high school prom. Santander AND Paulino both younger than Clint Frazier. When you add in players like Lindor Rodriquez and Brown you have to salivate at what is possible when you add in Salazar, Kipnis, Brantley Santana. 2016 and beyond could be VERY VERY Special

Al Ciammaichella said...

Agree Ryan, and that's not even including Alex Lavisky (who was the hardest omission from this year's list) or Alex Monsalve (who others are very high on). Great organizational depth and lots to dream on, and speaks to their philosophy of building an org from the middle-out.

Yeah Hawk, there are lots of very young players in the pipeline. They carry quite a bit of risk, but if even some of them pan out, it'll help keep the big club stocked for a playoff run.

Adam Van Arsdale said...

Lots of young guys to dream about, I just wish a few (more) of them were pitchers. But a good 2014 could change that.