Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Indians Prospect Countdown: #25-21

We're looking at five really interesting players on the countdown today. Starting off with one of the Indians better SP prospects who put together a solid season at low-A last year, and rolling right into a catcher who opened some eyes in Akron. Rounding out this installment is a toolsy OF who can't stay healthy, a fast-moving lefty reliever who dominated in 2014 and a young, talented right-handed pitcher who should be making his full-season debut in 2014. 

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
25. Dylan Baker, SP
DOB: 4/6/1992
Height/Weight: 6-2/215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 5th round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: 7-6, 3.63 ERA with 117 K and 62 BB in 143 2/3 IP with low-A Lake County

Scouting Report: Baker attended high school in the baseball hotbed of Juneau, Alaska before attending JuCo in Nevada. He was a dominant arm in college, going 13-0 with a 1.91 ERA for Western Nevada and winning his conference’s play of the year award. He signed in time to make his debut with the Rookie League AZL Indians in 2012 and impressed in a short stint, striking out 30 in 24 IP. He spent all of 2013 with the Lake County Captains, leading the team in both IP and strikeouts as a 21-year old.

Baker’s fastball sits comfortably in the 91-94 MPH range, and has touched 97 in the past. He delivers the pitch from a very high, over-the-top arm angle that helps offer a difficult plane for hitters and helps the pitch have nice sinking action. His featured secondary offering is a 12-6 curveball that really falls off the table as it crosses home plate. He also throws a changeup that lags behind the curveball in effectiveness, but has shown some quality with late fade down and away from righties.

Baker does a nice job locating his pitches down in the zone, using his sinking fastball to pitch to contact and let his fielders do a lot of the work for him. He posted a 1.37 GO/AO ratio last year, and allowed just 3 home runs in almost 150 innings of work. He lacks a true bat-missing offering, and that could prove troublesome as he works his way up the organizational ladder. It’s tough for guys who strike out fewer than 8 hitters per 9 IP in low-A to find sustained success at the higher levels, so I’m really interested to see how Baker handles hitters at high-A Carolina this year. He’ll turn 22 on April 6, so he needs to advance at least a level per season to be on a major league trajectory. It’s still possible that he becomes a 2-pitch power reliever, in which case he’d have an opportunity to move through the org much more quickly. The refinement of the changeup is key for Baker, and if it can develop into a pitch that is effective against hitters from both sides of the plate, it’ll go a long ways towards keeping Baker in the rotation and moving up the ladder towards Cleveland.

Glass half-full: A solid, back of the rotation innings-eater
Glass half-empty: A 2-pitch power reliever

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
24. Jake Lowery, C
DOB: 7/21/1990
Height/Weight: 6-0/195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 4th round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: .264/.359/.437 with 7 HR and 33 RBI in 82 games between high-A Carolina and AA Akron

Scouting Report: Lowery was the Indians 4th round selection in the 2011 draft out of James Madison University in Virginia, the same year in which he won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher. In a time where HR were on the downswing in college baseball, Lowery popped 24 HR his senior year, and the coaches in the Colonial League voted him as the top defensive catcher in the conference. After playing 69 games with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2011, the Indians aggressively pushed the 21-year old Lowery to high-A Carolina in 2012. He struggled at the plate in 59 games with the Mudcats, posting a .640 OPS before being sent down to Lake County to finish out the season. He was much better in low-A, putting up a .862 OPS with 7 HR in 39 games for the Captains. Lowery was back in Carolina to start the 2013 season, but was quickly pushed up to AA Akron where he put together a solid season at the plate. In 70 games (236 AB) with the Aeros, Lowery hit .275/.363/.449 with 6 HR and 28 RBI. It was a solid showing against advanced pitching for the 22-year old, one that vaulted him up to the top-25 on this list after appearing in the 40’s last year.

Offensively, Lowery projects to have 5+ power and 4+ hitting ability from the left side. For a catcher, that’s a pretty good hitter. He has a .769 career minor league OPS in 249 games, but I’m focusing more on his performance in AA last year as a 22-year old. He has a smooth, quick load at the beginning of his swing and shows good balance throughout. He hits both lefties and righties well, showing slightly better splits against RHP as you’d expect. He has a solid approach, walking 33 times en route to a .363 OBP for Akron last year. He doesn’t typically chase pitches outside of the zone early in the count, helping to set himself up for quality at bats. He only managed 6 HR in 70 AA contests, but did hit 21 doubles, some of which will turn into HR’s as Lowery continues to add strength and size to his athletic frame.

Defensively, Lowery has a little more work to do. He moves well behind the plate and is a good receiver. Pitchers in the organization like throwing to Lowery, and he does a nice job handling a staff. He has plus arm strength, and can throw a strike to 2B without ever leaving his knees. But his arm actions are still a little slow, and the Indians would like to see him clean those up in an effort to help control the opposing running game. Lowery threw out 24 of 86 would-be basestealers last season in Akron, good for a 28% CS rate. That’s right in line with his career 30% CS, a number that would ideally be more in the 35-40% range with his arm strength.

Lowery will likely be back in AA as the RubberDucks (that’s going to take some getting used to) catcher in 2014, and if he can match or improve on last year’s AA offensive numbers, his prospect standing could take another leap forwards. Power-hitting catchers are in precious short supply, especially those that hit from the left side of the plate. Lowery looks like he should at least have a major league career as an offense-oriented backup, and is just a couple of years away from realizing that potential. The Indians are pretty well set at the catcher position right now between Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana, but if Lowery’s bat can continue to progress, it could push him past defensive whiz Roberto Perez on the organizational pecking order.

Glass half-full: A 2nd division starter with some pop
Glass half-empty: An offense-oriented backup catcher

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
23. LeVon Washington, OF
DOB: 7/26/1991
Height/Weight: 5-11/170 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 2nd round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: .348/.444/.552 with 5 HR and 32 RBI in 61 games between the Rookie League Arizona Indians and low-A Lake County

Scouting Report: Washington is an extremely difficult guy to rank. Talent-wise, he’s a top-10 guy in the organization. He’s a plus athlete, a good hitter and speedy runner on the basepaths and in the OF. But he’s been unable to stay on the field since being drafted, playing a total of just 156 games in the 3+ seasons since he was drafted in 2010. He was plagued by shoulder issues coming out of Chipola College, but had surgery to get past that and reported to Goodyear healthy in 2011. Knee issues disrupted his 2011, limiting him to just 79 games with low-A Lake County. He had a big spring in 2012 and looked ready to breakout, but tore a tendon in his hip, requiring surgery and missing a huge chunk of action. In 2013, nagging hamstring issues limited him to just 61 games (51 with Lake County). When he was on the field, Washington was outstanding in 2013. He posted a .997 OPS, hit 5 HR and stole 16 bases while only being caught 4 times between Lake County and Arizona. Talent isn’t the problem with Washington; health is.

At the plate, Washington has an above-average hit tool and below-average power. He’s skinny but wiry, with gap power at best. He’s more of a slap hitter who likes to put the ball in play and use his legs to make things happen. He can turn on an inside fastball though, and has enough strength and bat speed to project at least gap power. He has excellent plate coverage and does a good job hitting the ball where it is pitched, using all fields and not trying to do too much. He has a solid approach, walking 37 times last season against just 54 strikeouts. Washington’s peak could feature something like a .310/.390/.430 triple slash line; he’s that good.

In the field, Washington should be able to stick in CF. He has plus speed and covers a lot of ground on the outfield, getting good reads on the ball. His arm is slightly below average, but it has come a long way since 2010 following the surgery on the torn labrum in his shoulder. At one point, it was thought that the arm would limit Washington to LF or even prompt a move to 2B, but his strength has returned to at least Sizemorian levels in CF.

For all of #WASHTIME’s (former) bluster on twitter, I’ve always found Washington to be a humble, hardworking player. He admitted to me that he began his career taking professional baseball a little too lightly, figuring his talent enough would be sufficient to propel him to the major leagues in short order. That proved to not be the case, as Washington struggled with both injuries and ineffectiveness during his rookie campaign of 2011. When I saw him during spring training in 2012, he was a completely different player. He was spraying line drives all over the ballpark, impacting the game with his speed on the bases, and making outstanding hustle plays in the field. There is no denying Washington’s raw talent. He’s one of the most athletic, dynamic players in the entire system. But health can also be a skill, and that’s one that Washington has yet to master. If he can just stay on the field for an entire season, Washington could be right back in the top-10 on this list next season. But until he can stay healthy enough to allow his prodigious tools to play, he’s going to keep sliding down in the prospect rankings. Washington should finally make it to Carolina to stay this season, and if he can be healthy and effective in the early going, a promotion to Akron in short order would be appropriate for the 22-year old. He still has time to make an impact for the Indians, but can’t do so from the training table.

Glass half-full: The good version of Carl Crawford
Glass half-empty: The bad version of Grady Sizemore

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
22. Kyle Crockett, RP
DOB: 12/15/1991
Height/Weight: 6-2/170 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Left/Left
Acquired: 4th round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: 1-0, 0.36 ERA with 32 K and 5 BB in 24 2/3 IP between short season Mahoning Valley, low-A Lake County and AA Akron.

Scouting Report: Crockett was selected in the 4th round of last year’s draft out of the University of Virginia and signed for a $463,000 bonus, which was pretty much right on the $463,600 slot. Crockett was the closer for UVA last year, and posted some pretty impressive numbers in college. He struck out 71 and walked just 7 in 58 1/3 IP in Charlottesville, showcasing some impressive command and control while pitching in the ACC. After signing, Crockett went on a whirlwind tour of the Indians minor league organization, pitching for the Scrappers, Captains and Aeros, finding success at all three levels. His age, experience and polish make him a guy who will spend a lot less time in the minors than most prospects, and he could easily be the 2013 draft’s version of Cody Allen for the Indians.

Despite the high strikeout numbers, Crockett doesn’t have overpowering stuff. His fastball sits in the low-90’s, and comes from a low ¾ angle that makes it tough for hitters to pick up the baseball. The velocity plays up due to the deception in his delivery, and the arm-side run on his fastball makes it play up a full grade. He compliments the fastball with a big, sweeping slider that is murder on lefties and makes him, at worst, a future LOOGY in the majors. It’s just a two-pitch arsenal, which will keep Crockett in the bullpen, but it’s been both simple and extremely effective for him in his career thus far.

Crockett gave up just one earned run as a professional last season, a solo HR while he was pitching for the Lake County Captains. His overall numbers were eye-popping; 11.7 K/9, just 1.8 BB/9 and a 0.851 WHIP to go along with the miniscule 0.36 ERA. As good as he is against lefties, Crockett didn’t give anything up to right-handed hitters last year either. He’s likely to begin the 2014 season back with AA Akron, but has the talent and polish to make it to the major leagues as early as this year. Need at the MLB level will do more to dictate Crockett’s timeline than his own performance will, but if the Indians need a lefty out of the bullpen down the stretch this year, they won’t have to make a deadline deal to acquire him as they did with Marc Rzepczynski in 2013. Crockett will be ready and waiting to contribute if the need arises.

Glass half-full: An effective arm in the back end of a MLB bullpen
Glass half-empty: An effective LOOGY in the back end of a MLB bullpen

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
21. Kieran Lovegrove, SP
DOB: 7/28/1994
Height/Weight: 6-4/185 lbs
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 3rd round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: 1-7 with a 5.25 ERA with 51 K and 31 BB in 58 1/3 IP for the Rookie League Arizona Indians

Scouting Report: Kieran Lovegrove is easily the best Indians prospect who was born in South Africa. He grew up playing cricket, not baseball, but hasn’t looked back since he became a pitcher rather than a bowler. He was the Indians 3rd round selection in the 2012 draft, and has appeared exclusively in the rookie level Arizona League the past two seasons. He’s a big (6’4”), projectable arm that should be able to stick in the rotation long-term who should be making his full-season debut in 2014.

Lovegrove was sitting between 89-93 with his fastball velocity coming out of high school, but picked up several MPH last offseason. When I saw him in Goodyear last spring, he was sitting between 92-95, touching 97 several times in a 3-inning stint. He worked a lot on using his lover half better, and getting his legs more involved in The fastball has a chance to be a legit plus pitch once he refines his command and control. His 2-seamer has some arm-side run and sink, and it’s most effective when he works down in the zone to induce weak contact. He compliments the fastball with a slider and changeup. The slider flashes plus, and has sharp, late life when he’s throwing it well. Developing the changeup was a major goal for Lovegrove in 2013, and he’s gotten it to a point where he’s comfortable throwing the pitch in almost any count. The refinement of his secondary stuff is key for Lovegrove, and if he can turn the slider into a legit, bat-missing strikeout pitch, it’d be a huge step in his development.

When he was still in high school, Lovegrove co-founded a charity, the Going to Bat Foundation. Through the foundation, Lovegrove helps provide balls, bats and other baseball equipment to disadvantaged youths throughout America and Africa. That’s an impressive thing for a high school kid to do, and shows advanced maturity for a teenager. He's also pitched internationally for Team South Africa in the preliminary rounds of the World Baseball Classic, getting a change to play with and against guys much older and more experienced than himself. Lovegrove has great makeup, and his attitude on and off the baseball field will help him maximize his tools and reach his ultimate potential on the mound.

Lovegrove didn’t have a great season in 2013, but was just 18-years old pitching in professional baseball. He posted solid strikeout rates, but struggled with his command and walked too many hitters. The upcoming season will be a big one for Lovegrove’s development, as he’ll be 19-years old and more than likely make his full-season debut with the Lake County Captains. Lovegrove worked on his mechanics, repeating his delivery and secondary stuff during the past two years, and has worked out enough kinks that he should be ready for a step forward with respect to his on-the-field results. The talent is undeniable, he just needs to put it all together on the mound.

Glass half-full: A #3 starter in a major league rotation

Glass half-empty: A power arm in the back of a bullpen

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