Sunday, March 09, 2014

Lazy Sunday: Indians Prospects #5-1

On this Lazy Sunday, we've finally reached the end of the 2014 version of the Indians prospect countdown. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. In the top five, we're going to look at a 1st round OF who made big strides last year, a young catcher with tantalizing upside, a pitcher who's undergone some major mechanical changes, and the Indians first round picks from 2011 and 2013.

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
5. Tyler Naquin, OF
DOB: 4/24/1991
Height/Weight: 6-2/175 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Acquired: 1st round pick in the 2012 MLB draft
2013 Stats: .269/.334/.405 with 10 HR and 48 RBI in 126 games between high-A Carolina and AA Akron

Scouting Report: Going into the 2013 season, Naquin didn’t have many fans in the scouting/prospecting industry. He was coming off of an uninspiring run in the NYPL, posting a .758 OPS for the Scrappers without hitting a single HR in 2012. For a college OF who was billed as having an advanced hit tool, observers both in and outside of the organization were expecting more. He was pegged as having a 4th OF ceiling by some scouts. Not a 4th OF realistic role, but ceiling. That’s not what Indians fans were hoping for out of a first round draft pick, to say the least. He took a big step forward in 2013 though, as although the numbers aren’t eye-popping, the scouting reports got much more optimistic regarding his eventual role at the major league level.

Naquin has above-average bat to ball ability from the left side of the plate. He does a nice job barreling the baseball, and makes consistent contact even while that contact is not particularly powerful. He worked hard to eliminate a hitch in his swing that he had in college, and doing so took what little loft he had out of his swing and robbed him of some of his power. Still, he was able to hit 9 HR in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League (and one for AA Akron) in addition to 27 doubles (3 more in AA). You don’t hear the “future batting champ” tag being thrown around the way you did after he was drafted, but the bat will not be valueless.

Naquin’s best tool is his arm, which is a (rare) legit 7+. He has an absolute cannon, and it is incredibly accurate from the OF. He recorded 11 OF assists with Carolina last year, a number that would’ve been far higher if runners had dared to test him more often. But word travels fast in an 8-team league, and opposing baserunners knew better than to try and stretch a single into a double with Naquin in CF. This offseason, Baseball Prospectus called Naquin’s arm the best in all of minor league baseball. That’s a pretty bold statement, and shows just how much of a weapon Naquin’s arm will be in CF. His route running and reads on balls in the OF improved as well, and scouts now believe that Naquin can stay in CF long-term. That’s important for Naquin’s prospect standing, as a move to an OF corner would be tough to justify due to his power profile at the plate. He has above-average speed, but was thrown out 10 times in 25 SB attempts last year.

Naquin doesn’t have the ultimate ceiling of any of the guys ahead of him on this list, but he definitely has a projection of a major league regular. He’s probably going to top out as a 2nd-divison starter in CF, but he should be able to stick up the middle. I could see him posting regular stat lines of .280/.350/.410 with 15 HR and 15 SB, and when you combine that with his defensive potential in CF, that’s a pretty useful player. Naquin should begin the 2014 season with AA Akron, but could advance to AAA Columbus depending on which veterans the Indians keep around on the AAA taxi squad. He’ll be ready for a big league debut in 2015, and will move up based more on organizational need than anything he does on the diamond.

Glass half-full: Michael Brantley with a (much) better arm, and the ability to stick in CF
Glass half-empty: Michael Brantley lite with a (much) better arm, only in RF

4. Francisco Mejia, C
DOB: 10/27/1995
Height/Weight: 5-10/175 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Switch/Right
Acquired: International free agent in 2012
2013 Stats: .305/.348/.524 with 4 HR and 24 RBI in 30 games for the Rookie League Arizona Indians

Scouting Report: I’m breaking all sorts of rules I’ve imposed on myself here. I’m ranking a player in the top-5 of the organization who I’ve never seen play. A player who has yet to play outside of the complex leagues since coming stateside. A player who will play the entire 2014 season as an 18-year old, and who plays a position that traditionally takes the longest to develop into a major leaguer. But Mejia’s tools are just too enticing to have him any lower on this list than #4. Those tools are a long way from playing at the major league level, though. He’s got the greatest gap between current ability and ultimate ceiling of anyone in the organization, more so even than Clint Frazier. But those tools…wow.

Mejia has the potential to feature 6+ hit AND 6+ power from both sides of the plate. He has outstanding strength and bat speed, with a bat to ball ability rarely seen from teenage prospects out of the Dominican. He had 14 XBH in 105 AB last year (as a 17-year old!), good for a .524 SLG and .872 OPS. He had just one fewer HR than Frazier in 86 fewer plate appearances. He only drew 5 walks, but also struck out just 18 times. He has an aggressive approach that is going to need to be refined as he moves up the organizational ladder, but the tools are there for a potential impact bat behind the plate.

Defensively, Mejia is even more raw. Scouts put a 7+ grade on his arm, but it doesn’t play at that level yet as his footwork and actions lag behind the arm strength at this point in his development. But the arm itself is extremely impressive, limiting the opposition’s running game by sheer intimidation. As one of the Indians minor league pitchers put it when I talked to him this offseason, “he provides peace of mind with runners on base.” His receiving needs work, which is something you can say about pretty much every 18-year old catching prospect, ever. So while that’s something to monitor, it’s not a huge concern of mine at this point. With guys like Sandy Alomar and Dave Wallace in the organization helping with catcher development, it’s only a matter of time before Mejia receives (pun) the instruction necessary to improve his overall defense by leaps and bounds. The only thing that can’t be taught is arm strength, and that’s something Mejia already has. Personally, I think the Indians should put Mejia in Roberto Perez’s pocket (figuratively, not literally) for as much of spring training as possible.

I’m more excited to see Mejia in Goodyear this spring than anyone else in the organization, Frazier included. He’s got at least another season in the complex leagues ahead of him, so Cleveland-area fans won’t get a glimpse of him until 2015 at the earliest. I’ve always been somewhat of a catcher honk, so I’m probably more excited about Mejia than anyone who doesn’t draw a paycheck from the Indians. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in Arizona, and look for plenty of thoughts on him in my Goodyear notebook when I finally get to watch the youngster in action.

Glass half-full: His ultimate ceiling is that of an all-star catcher
Glass half-empty: He might never play above AA

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
3. Trevor Bauer, SP
DOB: 1/17/1991
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Acquired: Via trade from Arizona in a three-team deal involving Shin Soo-Choo
2013 Stats: 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA, 11 K and 16 BB in 17 IP for Cleveland; 6-7 with a 4.15 ERA, 106 K and 73 BB in 121 1/3 IP for AAA Columbus

Scouting Report: Those are some pretty ugly numbers that Bauer posted in 2013, so I can understand if you’re scratching your head a little at his place on this list. Bauer posted a career high ERA, walk rate and WHIP last year, and a career low strikeout rate and SO/BB ratio. His walk rate jumped to 5.4 per 9 innings pitched, which is difficult to live with even for a big strikeout guy. But when you combine that with a strikeout rate of just 7.9 per 9 IP (previous low was 10.8/9 in 2012), that really spells bad news for a pitcher. Bauer had a terrible 2013 season no matter how you look at it, and Indians fans were left wondering why the club gave up OF Shin Soo-Choo in a deal with Bauer as the centerpiece.

Bauer still has plus stuff. He throws a 4-seam and 2-seam fastball, cutter, curveball, slider and changeup (which he can also cut). He mixes in an occasional splitter, and even thrown a “reverse slider” in the past, which has action similar to a screwball when it works properly. It’s a deep and impressive arsenal, and Bauer is constantly tweaking factors like grip, arm speed and arm angle to get the most out of his many pitches. The fastball sits in the mid-90’s with arm-side run, and can set up the hitter for his collection of secondary offerings. The curveball is his best offspeed pitch, a mid-80’s hammer that falls off a table as it reaches the plate. The rest of his offerings range from slightly below average to plus, and he feels comfortable going to nearly any pitch in any situation.

Bauer has been accused in the past of being both a nibbler and a tinkerer, both trends that can lead to a higher than ideal walk rate. He tries to rack up as many strikeouts as possible rather than trusting his stuff in the strike zone and the defense behind him, and that can lead to a base on balls as he tries to be too fine on the outer edges of the strike zone. Bauer and the Indians have been making minor mechanical adjustments to his high-effort delivery ever since he came over from Arizona, and those changes can be difficult to adjust to on the fly during a season. For comparison’s sake, how many of you have tried to adjust your golf swing in the middle of a round? It usually results in over-thinking and under-performing as you try to get your body to adjust to a completely new motion from the muscle memory you’ve been ingraining into yourself for many, many years. A pitching motion is similar to a golf swing in this case. Making even subtle changes can throw the whole thing off, and it takes time to incorporate these changes into the overall package. To Bauer’s credit, he took the Indians changes in stride, knowing that while they could result in a temporary setback in 2013, they were designed to make him a better and more durable pitcher moving forward.

Time will tell whether Bauer’s 2013 was merely a blip on the radar of an otherwise successfully big league career or a harbinger of more struggles ahead. Talent-wise, Bauer is one of the three best pitchers in the entire organization. If he really has incorporated pitching guru Mickey Callaway’s instruction into his approach and delivery, I think we’re going to see very good things from Bauer in 2014 and forward. He’s going to have a shot at the 5th starter role coming out of Goodyear this spring, although Carlos Carrasco’s lack of options will likely see Cookie breaking camp in that role. But Bauer will be the first arm called on in case of injury or ineffectiveness in the rotation, something that is sure to take place at some point in 2014. If he can get off to a hot start for AAA Columbus, it’d be a very good sign that the 23-year old has turned a corner and is back on track to be a #1 or #2 starting pitcher at the major league level. I still believe in Bauer, and think he’s a big part of the Indians plans going forward.

Glass half-full: Still a front of the rotation, dominant starting pitcher.
Glass half-empty: Basically, his 2013 season. If last year was the beginning of a trend rather than an aberration, Bauer will never become a consistent starter in a major league rotation.

Photo Credit: Tony Dejak/AP
2. Clint Frazier, OF
DOB: 09/06/1994
Height/Weight: 6’1”/190 lb.
Bats/Throws: Right/Right    
Acquired: 1st round draft pick in 2013
2013 Stats: .297/.362/.506 with 5 HR and 28 RBI in 44 games for the Rookie League Arizona Indians

Scouting Report: The 2013 Gatorade National HS Player of the Year, Frazier was the 2nd prep player and 2nd position player selected in last June’s draft. He signed in time to play nearly a full season in the AZ league, and blasted a mammoth HR over the CF fence in his first professional AB. He finished 6th in the AZL in HR and 4th in the league with his .868 OPS. He also finished 2nd in the league with 61 K (in 196 PA), so we got to see both the best and the worst of Frazier in his initial professional season.

Frazier has the potential to be a legit five-tool player at the major league level. He could develop into a 7 power/6 hit guy at the plate, and is already a 6+ runner with a 5+ arm. Early reviews on his OF defense and eventual position are mixed, but the potential for above-average defense in CF is there. It’s possible he outgrows the position and ends up in a corner, but even if that happens, the bat will play. He’s an outstanding athlete who had the best bat-speed in the entire 2013 draft. He has the potential to be a monster in CF, a slightly slower version of Grady Sizemore with a better arm and a ginger afro. Is that something you might be interested in?

Frazier has a higher ceiling than anyone in the organization, Lindor included. He’s not as likely to reach his ultimate ceiling as Lindor, which is why he’s ranked a spot below him. But he’d be the top prospect in many organizations around baseball, and is an easy top-50 overall guy in the game right now. He’ll likely begin the 2014 season in Lake County, where the difficult hitting environment of the Midwest League will challenge the Georgia native. Frazier has a ways to go in his development, and likely won’t sniff the major leagues until 2017. But he’s got a change to be an impact talent when he gets there, a CF who hits 3rd in a first-division major league lineup. Those don’t come along too often, and it’ll be a lot of fun watching Frazier develop.

Glass half-full: Healthy Grady Sizemore with a better arm
Glass half-empty: A RF with power who hits for low average

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
1. Francisco Lindor, SS
DOB: 11/14/1993
Height/Weight: 5-11/175
Bats/Throws: Switch/Right
Acquired: 1st round pick in the 2011 MLB draft
2013 Stats: .303/.380/.407 with 2 HR, 34 RBI and 25 SB in 104 games between high-A Carolina and AA Akron.

Scouting Report: Lindor is the best prospect in the Indians organization, and one of the top-10 prospects in all of baseball. He’s done nothing but succeed since being drafted 8th overall in the 2011 draft, posting a .279/.367/.377 line in 231 games in the Indians organization. While that line doesn’t jump off the page at you, consider that he did it as a teenager, always one of the younger players in whatever league he was playing in. And then consider that his bat isn’t his best tool, as his Gold Glove-caliber defense at a premium defensive position is what really makes scouts drool over Lindor. When you look at the total package, it’s easy to see why Lindor is the envy of scouting directors and GM’s around baseball.

Lindor began the 2013 season with high-A Carolina in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League. He hit a solid .306/.373.410 with one HR and 20 SB in 83 games with the Mudcats. Bumped up to AA Akron, he got off to a sizzling start with the Aeros. He hit .327/.448/.455 in 15 July games, including a homer, a triple, two doubles and 7 RBI. Most impressively, he drew 11 walks against just 3 strikeouts against the advanced AA pitching in the Eastern League. That’s pretty impressive for a 19-year old in his first taste of AA. Lindor managed just three hits in 6 August contests before being shut down for the season in the middle of the month with back problems. The back problems are not expected to bother him moving forward, but it’s something worth monitoring in 2014. Hopefully this is the last we hear about it during a long and productive career on the North Coast.

This offseason, Baseball Prospectus ran a list of the “top tools” in the minors. Lindor was selected as being the best infield defender (no big surprise) in all of minor league baseball, which is a tremendous statement and honor. He was also selected as having the “best makeup” in minor league baseball. I’ll briefly quote from the BP article here, because I think it’s important to read their exact words on Lindor:

What often seems to slide under the radar is Lindor’s exceptional makeup. It can be argued that his work ethic is second to none in the minor leagues, which allows scouts to be aggressive in projecting his tool development. When combined with his on-field attitude, generally unflappable nature, and overall confidence, Lindor owns the very definition of what excellent makeup signifies in a professional baseball player.
Lindor is a toolshed, with only his power tool grading out below average. He’s a potential 7 defender with a 6+ arm, 6+ hit tool and is a 5 runner whose speed plays up due to his instincts and baseball intelligence. His ultimate power ceiling likely tops out at 4, as his season HR totals could crack the double digits, but I’d be surprised if he ever hit more than 20 in a single campaign. But the switch-hitting Lindor does a great job of getting the bat on the ball, and should be able to hit for a high average to help offset for the relative lack of pop. He’s a leader on and off the field, works as hard as anyone in minor league baseball and is always going to get the most out of his tools. Lindor is not a guy who’s going to show up out of shape to spring training and use the season to play his way into shape. He’s a top-10 prospect in all of baseball, and is extremely advanced for his age. There’s a good chance that he gets a taste of major league action this year (as a 20 year old!), and will almost certainly take over as the full-time shortstop in 2015 after Asdrubal Cabrera departs as a free agent.

Glass half-full: A Gold Glove shortstop that makes multiple all-star teams
Glass half-empty: A very, very good defensive shortstop who hits near the bottom of a major league lineup for a long time


Adam said...

Nice work Al, very well done. On the lighter side, I think we need a nickname for Lindor. Any suggestions? We should start working on this now before he comes up (earliest would probablt be in June of 2014, so we have some time). A few of mine that I'm kicking around:

1) St. Francis of SS.
2) Francis the Praying Mantis
3) El Salvador (Spanish for "the savior")

Any favorites/suggestions from anyone? Let's get something set in stone by June!

Al Ciammaichella said...

Thanks Adam!

Prospects named Francisco are the new market inefficiency.

Could shorten #2 to just "Mantis." Mantis Lindor. I kinda like that.

hawk1228 said...

Very well done Al
I do not recall ever reading in depth analysis of the players we have in our farm systems as I do of late. I am from the days of past and as a kid following the Indians I would read guys like Chuck Heaton, Russell Schneider and Hal Lebovitz (I would wait all week just to read his Sunday Article.) Every once in a while I would see a prospects name in one of Hals articles, he loved Joe Charboneau and there was this one kid who he would play up for what seemed like years but never played a day in the Tribe uniform I think his name was Angelo LoGrande. The point is we were being fed names to look for and they were names who never really amounted to anything significant. More recently names like Trevor Crowe and Jeremy Sowers were can’t miss prospects and I don’t recall sources where you could read an unbiased opinion of the talent in our systems. Writers that would take the time and print what was truly expected of each player in the minors. It is great to have a source who takes the time to put in perspective a truer picture of our player development other than waiting to see guys like Sowers falter letting the air out of that over publicized balloon. I realize this piece is a labor of love for you to analyze the players and it is greatly appreciated for older guys like me who remember Angelo LoGrande.

Adam said...

How about the Spanish translation of Mantis? "La Mantis" (prounounced Mon-teece in English). I like that one. What do you think?