Monday, March 03, 2014

Indians Prospect Countdown: #35-31

The countdown rolls on. Here's a link to the system overview and #40-36 in case you missed it. Today, we're going to profile a college arm who is a fierce competitor on the mound, a big lefty who is short on experience but long on potential, a fantastic defender at SS who needs to make strides at the plate, a CF who struggled with injuries last year and the best defensive catcher in the system.

Photo Credit: Daily Bruin
35. Adam Plutko, SP
DOB: 10/3/1991
Height/Weight: 6-3/195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 11th round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: Did not pitch professionally in 2013

Scouting Report: Plutko was originally selected by the Houston Astros in the 6th round of the 2010 MLB Draft, but elected not to sign and went to college instead. He pitched on the same staff at UCLA with the more highly-regarded Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole as a freshman in 2011. When Bauer and Cole jumped to the big leagues, Plutko inherited the role of #1 starter on the Bruin staff and led UCLA right back to the College World Series in 2013, being names the Series’ Most Outstanding Player in the process. Plutko went 10-3 with a 2.25 for the Bruins last year, striking out 81 and walking 30 in 124 innings of work. The Indians took Plutko in the 11th round, and as a junior he had the option to return to college for one more season. The Indians were able to sign him right at the deadline for $300,000, which was $200,000 over the “slot” for all picks after the 10th round of the draft.

Plutko is one of the few players on this list that I haven’t seen play live and in person, so I’m going off of video and the scouting reports of others here. He has a four pitch mix, throwing a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. The fastball is average, sitting between 89-92 MPH without too much movement. He works primarily up and away with his fastball, getting hitters out more with fly balls than grounders. It remains to be seen how well that approach works against professional hitters, as fly ball pitchers are (of course) more prone to luck and fluctuating HR rates than pitchers who work down in the zone. Plutko’s best secondary offering is his changeup, a pitch that is 12-18 MPH slower than his fastball with excellent fade. His slider looks like more of a slurve, as it comes in at only around 80 MPH so it doesn’t have the hard, biting action or tilt of a really tight slider. It has good movement, but isn’t as deceptive as you’d like. He also throws a curveball to help change the eye level of hitters, and it has more downward movement than the slider. It’s more of a show pitch at this point, as Plutko works primarily off the FB-CH-SL combo.

Plutko has a very clean, repeatable delivery and works from a consistent high ¾ arm slot. He has all the hallmarks of a durable, back of the rotation innings eating starter. He’s a little bit of a different animal as he doesn’t have swing and miss stuff, but still likes to work up in the zone. Time will tell if that’s something that Plutko can do against higher-quality hitters as a professional, or if the Indians try to adjust his plan of attack to pound the bottom of the strike zone. Either way, he’s a fairly polished arm without much projection who has the potential to move quickly through the system. He should start in the rotation for the Lake County Captains, but could move to Carolina at some point in mid-2014 if he’s finding success in the Midwest League.

Glass half-full: A #4 starter in a MLB rotation
Glass half-empty: Swingman out of the bullpen or a #5 starter

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
34. Luis Lugo, SP
DOB: 3/5/1994
Height/Weight: 6-5/200 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Left/Left
Acquired: International free agent signed in 2010
2013 Stats: 1-5, 2.37 ERA with 44 K and 16 BB in 64 2/3 IP between short-season Mahoning Valley and low-A Lake County

Scouting Report: The Indians are slow playing the big, young left-handed starter out of Venezuela, as the 64 2/3’s innings that Lugo pitched last year set a career high. He was held down in extended spring training until the short-season New York-Penn League stood up, and made 11 starts for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers once he made his way north. With the Scrappers, Lugo put up an outstanding 1.97 ERA in 50 1/3 IP while pposting a 2 BB/9 IP rate. The Indians saw enough out of Lugo to bump him up to the Midwest League for three starts to finish out the season, and he threw 15 innings for the Captains in August. He allowed 6 ER in those three starts, striking out 14 and walking just five. It was an impressive full-season debut for the big southpaw, and offered a tantalizing glimpse of what may be in store once the Indians remove the training wheels.

Lugo’s fastball sits between 88-92 MPH, which is at least average for a left-handed pitcher. He could easily add a few MPH as he continues to fill out and mature, especially if he can better leverage his lower half into his delivery. His arsenal includes a curveball and a changeup, with the curveball flashing as an above-average offering. Development and refinement of the changeup are going to be among Lugo’s goals in 2014, as he’ll need at least three pitches to remain a starter long-term. As we’ve already touched on, Lugo’s command and control took a big step forward in 2013, and if he can advance his raw stuff without sacrificing anything in that department, he’ll have gone a long ways towards solidifying his future role in a starting rotation. left-handed starters in excess of 6’5” don’t come along every day, and the Indians are going to do everything they can to keep Lugo in the rotation long-term.

The most impressive thing we saw out of Lugo in 2013 was the dramatic dip in his walk rate. After issuing 45 free passes in 78 2/3 innings from 2011-12, Lugo walked just 16 in 64 2/3 IP last year. Cutting your walk rate in half while climbing up the organizational ladder is unusual, and really goes to show how much better Lugo was in 2013. He is already a big guy, but his projectable frame can handle more size without going all Sabathia on us, so there’s a chance that his velocity continues to tick upwards. It’s still tough to project a clear path due to his relative inexperience, so everything from #3 starter to bullpen arm is on the table here. He should start 2014 back in low-A, where he’ll still be one of the younger players on the roster. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do once the Indians let him handle a full workload on the mound.

Glass half-full: A #3? Too early to tell
Glass half-empty: A bullpen arm?

Photo Credit: Lianna Holub
33. Erik Gonzalez, SS
DOB: 8/31/1991
Height/Weight: 6-1/165 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: International free agent signed in 2008
2013 Stats: .254/.293/.417 with 9 HR and 49 RBI in 132 games between low-A Lake County and high-A Carolina

Scouting Report: Gonzalez is on this list primarily for his glove, not his bat. He was decent at the plate with Lake County last season, hitting .259/.307/.439 with nine HR in 93 games. But as a 21-year old in low-A, he was old for the level and the success didn’t carry over to the Carolina League after his promotion to the Mudcats in late July (.625 OPS, no HR in 39 games). But anything that Gonzalez provides with the bat is gravy, because his glove projects to be near-elite at the 2nd most difficult position on the diamond. He was added to the Indians 40-man roster last offseason, showing how much the front office values his current ability at short and suggesting they see potential for growth at the plate as well. GM Chris Antonetti referred to Gonzalez as “one of the hardest workers and best teammates in our organization,” when he was added to the 40-man, and feels like he can play a variety of positions defensively at a very high level.

At the plate, both Gonzalez’s present hit and power tools rate out as below-average. The Indians have worked with Gonzalez on his hand placement and load, lowering his hands and trying to shorten the time it takes for Gonzalez to get the bat through the hitting zone. He has a big stride at the plate that effects his timing and leaves him very susceptible to offspeed stuff. He gets caught out on his front foot too often and needs to work on pitch recognition to ensure he doesn’t get fooled by breaking balls down and out of the zone. He’s a straight fastball hitter at this stage of his development, and that’s only going to change with a significant amount of exposure to quality breaking balls. The Indians had Gonzalez play in the Dominican Winter League this offseason where he impressed, going for a .325/.341/.454 line with one HR and 20 RBI in 45 games for Leones. But the problems with his approach persisted, as he walked just three times in the DWL, striking out 47. Stateside, he has just 81 walks against 245 K in 358 professional games. If Gonzalez can improve his pitch recognition/selection, it’d go a long ways towards making the bat playable on an everyday basis at the highest level.

Gonzalez is a tall, rangy, athletic kid. He has a projectable frame, and even if he adds some weight should be able to stick at SS long-term. He’s bounced all over the diamond defensively, playing 1B (47 games), 2B (87 G), 3B (137 G), SS (76 G), LF (13 G), CF (1 G) and RF (13 G) so far in his minor league career. All 39 of his games for high-A Carolina last year were spent at SS, showing that the Indians would prefer to keep him up the middle with the corner positions as a fallback based on organizational need. He has good baseball instincts and plus range at short, showing an ability to go into the hole and up the middle and make strong, accurate throws across the diamond. His range is plus, his arm is above average and his tireless work ethic will ensure that he plays up to his potential throughout his professional career.

Gonzalez has the defensive chops to stick at SS, but is of course blocked by Francisco Lindor (like the rest of the SS in the org). He could be an intriguing trade chip for the Indians, or they could hang onto him and try to develop him as a utility guy off the bench who can play a variety of positions defensively. I think they’ll keep him at SS as much as possible, because that’s where he’ll have the most value considering his offensive deficiencies. Look for him to be back in Carolina in 2014, and watch to see if his swing mechanics have simplified after some offseason instruction.

Glass half-full: A defense-oriented, 2nd division SS
Glass half-empty: A super-utilityman in the mold of Jolbert Cabrera

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
32. Luigi Rodriguez, CF
DOB: 5/11/1992
Height/Weight: 5-11/160 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Switch/Right
Acquired: International free agent signed in 2009
2013 Stats: .275/.368/.370 with one HR and 20 RBI in 56 games between low-a Lake County and high-A Carolina

Scouting Report: Rodriguez was a candidate to break out in 2013, but lost over half the season with an elbow injury that put him on the shelf in late June. He was unable to return to the field in 2013, and he finished with disappointing counting stats in the abbreviated campaign. Still, there were positive signs to take away from 2013, as the 20-year old Rodriguez hit an impressive .283/.383/.398 in 34 games with high-A Carolina, solid stats in what is a difficult league for hitters. Small sample size warnings included, but the .383 OBP in particular was an encouraging sign for the young switch-hitting center fielder.

At the plate, Rodriguez has shown a solid ability to get on base throughout his career. In 295 career MiLB contests, Rodriguez has a .360 OBP, drawing 133 walks and striking out 284 times. He’s shown a little bit of pop, with 11 HR and a .406 SLG in 2012, but projects to have only gap power. Most of his extra base hits will be doubles and triples from his legs, not home runs. He offsets the relative lack of power by showcasing a 5 hit tool from both sides of the plate. His career numbers are extremely similar from both sides of the plate. His hit and speed tools make him seem like an ideal leadoff hitter, and if he can improve his approach to increase his walks and cut down on his strikeouts, that’s likely where he’ll end up hitting.

Defensively, Rodriguez has made significant strides in CF. He began his career playing some 2B in addition to OF, but the Indians decided to utilize his speed in the OF and he hasn’t played in the dirt since 2010 in the Dominican Summer League. He faced a steep learning curve in the OF, as playing in center is a lot more difficult than playing 2B. Rodriguez was a poor defender in 2011, but really started making strides in his reads and routes to balls in CF in 2012. He progressed to the point where he was an average defensive CF, and then started playing more in the OF corners in Carolina due to the presence of 1st round draft pick Tyler Naquin. Rodriguez is a plus defender in LF, and average in RF. His arm is adequate for CF, but a little below average in RF. He doesn’t really have the bat to stick in an OF corner anyway, so remaining up the middle defensively will be a big deal for Rodriguez.

The Indians have been aggressive with Luigi, and he’ll likely be back in high-A Carolina as a 21-year old this season. Losing over half a season was a tough blow for someone who needs as many AB and reps in the outfield as possible, which is why he’s so far down on this list in 2014. He’ll likely be back in CF with Naquin in Akron, so the 2014 season could be a make-or-break campaign for the young Dominican outfielder. Rodriguez’s overall numbers in 2014 are less important than his growth at the plate and proving that the improvement in CF is here to stay. If Rodriguez is a better hitter in June than he was in April, it’ll be a successful season. If he’s still on the field and improving in September, it could be the breakout year that some were predicting in 2013. He still has a ceiling of an everyday CF at the top of a lineup, but his floor is still pretty low as well. He’s a boom or bust type of guy, and the Carolina League has a way of separating the prospects from the organizational depth. I like Rodriguez a lot and think he has great potential, so I’m really looking forward to seeing him back healthy and on the diamond in 2014.

Glass half-full: A speedy, 2nd division starter in CF
Glass half-empty: A speedy, versatile 4th OF off the bench

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
31. Roberto Perez, C
DOB: 12/23/1988
Height/Weight: 5-11/225 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: 33rd round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft
2013 Stats: .200/.337/.286 with 2 HR and 34 RBI in 99 games between Akron and Columbus

Scouting Report: Perez continues to climb the organizational ladder despite offering relatively little value at the plate. For his minor league career, Perez is a .227/.359/.326 hitter with 14 HR in 461 games. He struggled after his promotion to AAA Columbus last summer, hitting just .176/.269/.241 in 67 games with the Clippers. So why does he rank in the top-30 of this list? Well, because he is an elite defensive catcher, one of the best in all of minor league baseball, and that’s something that can be incredibly valuable on its own.

Perez has shown some talent for reaching base, drawing 49 or more walks in every season since 2010. He has a good approach, seeing a lot of pitches and doing a nice job working the count. He shows above-average raw power, but his hit tool just doesn’t allow what pop there is in his bat to play. At this point, you can see that he’s really never going to hit enough to be a regular in a major league lineup.

Defensively, Perez is a star. He has a plus arm and incredibly quick actions behind the plate, frequently popping in the 1.7-1.9 range to 2B. He has quick feet and clean arm actions, allowing him to control the opposing teams running game in a way that most catchers cannot replicate. He moves well behind the plate, blocks pitches well and allows very few passed balls or wild pitches (just 6 PB in 2013). Pitchers in the organization love throwing to him. He’s an outstanding receiver with soft hands who does a really nice job framing pitches on the outer edges of the strike zone (and beyond). He calls an excellent game, and does a nice job working with pitchers to attack hitters’ weaknesses. In short, Perez does everything you could possibly want a catcher to do once he dons the tools of ignorance and crouches behind the dish.

Perez has always been a personal favorite player of mine, and I likely have him ranked higher than anyone else who looks at Indians prospects. I’m fine with that, as I firmly believe that Perez has the chance to have a long and valuable career as a defense-oriented backup catcher in the major leagues. Guys with his defensive skillset are not easy to come by, and Perez has a chance to affect the team without providing much offense at all. The example I use all the time is Sal Fasano, who managed to have an 11-year major league career despite an OPS of just .687. The Indians have a couple of catchers who can really hit in Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana, so they can afford to carry a guy like Perez who offers so much on the defensive side. He has the ability to catch in the major leagues right now, and will be waiting in the wings at AAA in case of a sudden need at the big league level in 2014 and beyond.

Glass half-full: A very good defensive backup catcher
Glass half-empty: A very good defensive AAA catcher


Adam Van Arsdale said...

I hope the Indians don't carry a 3rd catcher on the 25-man roster out of spring training, but if they do, what do you think are the chances the 3rd guy could be Perez? If they do and it is not Perez, why?

Al Ciammaichella said...

I think it should be Perez. He's ready to catch in the major leagues right now. But if I had to guess, it'll be Treanor or Carlin.