2012 Indians Top 50 Prospect Countdown Preview
The farm system will always be the lifeblood to the success of the Cleveland Indians, and last season some of their top young talent started to come together in the big leagues.
But after trading away their top two pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White last July and then promoting their top two position player prospects Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall halfway through the season, the Indians farm system is considerably weaker this year. In addition to that their next best prospects outfielder Nick Weglarz and right-handed pitcher Jason Knapp suffered through injury plagued seasons last year.
If you are counting at home that means the Indians lost their top six prospects from last year’s listing to trade, graduation, or injury. To make matters worse not many players just beyond the periphery of the Top 10 last year had banner seasons from a performance and development standpoint to help offset those losses.
When it comes to farm system rankings, an overwhelming component to the ranking is near Major League upside talent, which is something the Indians lack considerably thanks to all of the graduations over the last 18 months, some risky trades, and some unfortunate injuries. It is great to have upside in the lower levels, but without the sexiness of more established prospects in the upper levels, a farm system is just not very attractive. So with all of that in mind, this is why the Indians are currently considered one of the worst farm systems in baseball. And rightfully so.
But, this does not mean the Indians have a bad system. It just means they are extremely bottom heavy with talent in the lower levels and have few if any established everyday potential big league players in the upper levels.
The Indians have one of the most attractive systems in baseball if you look at players that are 21 years old and younger. Their last three drafts have been received very well by people throughout the industry, and their recent approach to get high upside, athletic, young players may ultimately pay off down the road, maybe as soon as this year. With all of that youth and upside brings a lot of potential, and because of that they could very easily shoot right back to a Top 10 farm system by this time next year.
So while the Indians no longer have the sexy names at the top of the system like Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, and Carlos Santana, they have lots of depth and young, developing players on the verge of breaking out as prospects.
That is the fun of following a farm system. To see which players emerge and which players fail. It is something that should make this upcoming season one of the best for following Indians prospects in a long time.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
The strength of the Indians’ farm system is the amount of high upside very talented players they have in the lower levels of the system, something not seen in their system in quite some time. With talented young players like left-handed pitcher Elvis Araujo, right-handed pitcher Dillon Howard, shortstop Francisco Lindor, outfielder Luigi Rodriguez, shortstop Ronny Rodriguez, right-handed pitcher Jake Sisco, right-handed pitcher Felix Sterling, outfielder LeVon Washington, and shortstop Tony Wolters all at age 20 years old or younger, the sky is the limit for these high ceiling players.
A large chunk of that high upside talent will not pan out as hoped, but the more you have the better chances you have of seeing a considerable amount of guys persevere and become legitimate prospects by this time next year. This is why the Indians’ standing among other organizations with their “ranking” this season is not so important because it could shift drastically next season if a good percentage of their young high upside talents perform and develop as expected.
Even with the loss of some bullpen depth in the minors this offseason, the Indians still have a lot of depth with Major League caliber bullpen arms. Left-handed pitcher Nick Hagadone and right-handed pitchers Rob Bryson, Matt Langwell, Chen-Chang Lee, Bryan Price, Bryce Stowell, and Tyler Sturdevant all have the potential to see time in the big league bullpen this season. The Indians also have some solid depth in middle to back of the rotation pitching options with right-handers Austin Adams and Zach McAllister and left-handers Scott Barnes, T.J. McFarland, and Matt Packer.
On the position player front the Indians’ biggest area of strength is in the middle of the diamond with lots of players that can play shortstop, second base, or center field. In the middle infield they have Francisco Lindor, Jorge Martinez, Dorssys Paulino, Cord Phelps, Ronny Rodriguez, and Tony Wolters, and in center field they have players like Tyler Holt, Carlos Moncrief, Bryson Myles, Luigi Rodriguez, and LeVon Washington. They also have some interesting power prospects on the rise like first baseman Jesus Aguilar and catcher Jake Lowery.
The biggest weakness of the Indians’ system is obviously their lack of Major League ready impact level talent. They have several guys at Triple-A that are on the periphery of the Major Leagues, but most of the guys that figure to be Major League starters or have All Star potential have already graduated to the big leagues and lost their prospect eligibility. This is acceptable in the short term since the Indians traded away so many players from their farm system and they had so many of their higher level prospects reach the Major Leagues last season, but long term it is imperative that a good amount of their lower level upside talents live up to their promise and become Major League potential starters or stars in the next season or two.
The Indians really lack a frontline starting pitching prospect and they do not have much at any of the corner positions in the outfield or infield. There are some promising corner position players and potential frontline arms, but the options are limited and the few they have are a long way from establishing themselves as one.
Who are some breakout and bust candidates?
This is a tough one because conceivably the Indians are loaded with breakout candidates considering how young and inexperienced their farm system is at the moment. But if you want to know a few guys to look out for that may not be getting a lot of prospect love right now, but have the potential to be more and rise a lot by the end of the season, keep an eye out for right-handed pitcher Cody Anderson, right-handed pitcher Cody Allen, third baseman Jordan Smith, infielder Robel Garcia, infielder Jorge Martinez, left-handed pitcher Shawn Morimando, right-handed pitcher Shawn Armstrong, and second baseman Zach MacPhee.
As far as bust candidates go, I do not think there is one for sure player in the entire system, so really everyone could turn out to be a bust. But a few players that are highly ranked that are high risk, high reward that could bust are outfielders Luigi Rodriguez and LeVon Washington, and pitchers Elvis Araujo and Felix Sterling.
The criteria used to determine who is eligible for the 2012 prospect ranking is fairly simple. Major League service time is not considered, and instead the only requirement is that a player still have rookie status with less than 50.0 innings pitched or with less than 130 at bats in their Major League career. The other exception from the ranking is players that have yet to play stateside are not ranked, which is basically those players that played the 2011 season in the Dominican Summer League or were a 2011 international signing that has yet to play. Until these Latin American players come stateside where I have an opportunity to see them more and also get opinions from others in the industry on them, I leave them out or the overall listing. That having been said, as always, I will have a Latin American Top 15 listing that will rank those players not eligible for the overall ranking list.
The information for these scouting reports comes from my numerous conversations over the past year with players, scouts, coaches, front office personnel, and so on. On the very rare occasion I have supplemented where necessary with information obtained from other media outlets both electronic and print.
The way someone puts together their ranking of players can vary from scout to scout, executive to executive, and from writer to writer. Some people rate prospects purely on results (stats), some on standing (class level/age), and some purely on potential (projection), but I try to incorporate all three of those rating styles and use a balanced approach in order to consider all possible information to make the best possible decision on where to place a player in my ranking. I generally do favor projection over performance, so younger players with upside will always get the higher nod versus an older player with great stats but a limited ceiling.
It should be noted that relief pitchers will typically rank low. Starting pitchers always have much, much more upside, so they get the priority when ranking pitchers. Unless a reliever has potential as a closer or as a setup man, he probably will not crack the Top 30-40. This also holds true for players that are utility players or reserve players as they will not rank well because of their limited role.
Also, older players in the upper levels that maybe have performed well but have plateaued as a prospect will not rank well. I base the rankings solely on what I think the player becomes and what their true Major League value/potential is, so it is not always about who is closer to the big leagues. So, someone that may be a solid performer, at Triple-A, and on the 40-man roster may not necessarily be ranked as well as a young prospect in Low-A that has been inconsistent with their performance but has the tools to be an impact player.
In the end, the rankings are arbitrary. I always tell people not to take each and every ranking exactly for what it is, but instead as a guideline that shows what players to keep an eye out for.
As always, thanks for the support and for reading. Enjoy the new reports and most of all I wish all the players the best of luck this upcoming season.
Up Next: The countdown begins tomorrow with #50.
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Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.