2014 IBI Roundtable: Minor League opening day is here
It is opening day in the minor leagues.
Tonight three of the Indians full season affiliates Triple-A Columbus, Double-A Akron and High-A Carolina will open while Low-A Lake County opens up their season on Friday.
With the start of a new minor league season it also officially kicks off another exciting year of coverage here at the IBI. We are your one stop shop for everything minor league baseball related with the Indians as no one comes anywhere close to providing the amount of material we provide with player features, game stories for all the six teams, weekly notebooks, daily farm recaps (ATF), scouting reports, radar updates, coach and front office comments and so much more. Also, lots of premium features from myself including two Minor Happenings articles each week, the IBI Hot List, Radar Report, Breakout Barometer, IBI Stock Watch, 3 Up 3 Down, Coach’s Corner, a new WAR room feature from Jim Piascik and so much more.
That all said, I polled several of the site writers to get their take on things as the season begins and they provide their thoughts below. I simply acted as the moderator, and here are their thoughts…
Q: What affiliate are you most excited to follow in the early going?
Jim Pete: As it stands, Akron is the place to be in April of 2014 for the Tribe minor league system. You have to start at shortstop, with the best Indians' prospect in a long, long time in Francisco Lindor. He is going to accelerate this year, and is just such a special player. There isn't a bigger fanboy of Joey Wendle, and I'm sorry to see him leave Carolina, but can't wait for folks to understand how good he is. But seriously, if I gave a sentence on every player I liked, this would be a book, so I'll just say watch Jordan Smith, Bryson Myles, Tony Wolters, Tyler Naquin, Tyler Holt, Jake Lowery, Enosil Tejeda, Kyle Crockett and especially Cody Anderson, who is taking the methodical approach to the bigs. This team is stacked, and my only advice is to get there soon, because they'll be short-timers on their way to Columbus.
Michael Goodman: I’m most excited to follow Akron this year. It’s not just Lindor, I’m anxious to see how Cody Anderson, Tony Wolters, Tyler Naquin, and even a guy like Giovanny Urshela progress. Looking into a possible Justin Masterson-less future in Cleveland, it’d be nice to see Cody Anderson work his way into a rotation option during this season. I don’t think he has a Salazar-like rise in him, but progression into AAA would be a boost to the system. In his second year as a catcher, it’s also going to be interesting to see how Wolters develops. His bat is going to play as a catcher, but if he takes big strides defensively the team might have another great prospect on their hands. I was somewhat disappointed in Naquin’s first season with the Indians. He needs to improve his plate discipline. If he can improve his approach at the plate the Indians will have a high-end depth option if Michael Bourn’s performance and health issues continue to be a concern.
Jim Piascik: It is basically cheating to say Akron since I cover the RubberDucks (and I took them last year in this roundtable), but I'm going to do it again. Akron has the best prospect in the system in Lindor, one of the top-two pitching prospects (depending on your view of Bauer) in Cody Anderson, and other names like Tony Wolters, Joseph Wendle, Kyle Crockett, Tyler Naquin, etc. Cleveland's drafts have been better in recent years and that talent is starting to move en masse up through the system with quite a few interesting names starting in Akron.
Steve Orbanek: Believe it or not, I have to say Columbus. It has hardly been a goldmine in regard to prospects in recent years, but there does seem to be some legitimate talent there once again. Players like Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Moncrief, Jesus Aguilar and T.J. House could all be called on to assist the Indians at one point or another this season. For the first time in a long while, Columbus is not completely barren, and that's definitely a good thing.
Charlie Adams: Columbus Clippers at the TripleA level. The Indians are going to need pitching reinforcements and you would think it has got to come from the pool of Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer, Shaun Marcum and potentially TJ House. If one or two of these guys can find the right rhythm, they could prove to be a valuable backstop on an Indians rotation that is likely going to have to scramble at times. Bonus enjoyment at Triple-A will come from Jesus Aguilar and Jose Ramirez trying to establish themselves as MLB-ready players waiting in the wings.
Stephanie Metzger: The Akron RubberDucks. Obviously Lindor is reason enough to track this team, but Cody Anderson and Kyle Crockett are also two of the system's most exciting arms. The team's re-brand is also a good reason to keep up with the team. Owner Kenny Babby has done a phenomenal job in terms of marketing and PR.
Michael Hattery: The Akron RubberDucks, and this isn’t even close. It has an incredible mix of top end talent as well as intriguing guys with specific skillsets to be tested. Lindor and Anderson, the most touted position player and most touted starter in the system are enough to draw my attention. Yet, the most interesting are two guys with Helium potential, Joe Wendle and Bryson Myles. This is a huge pivot year for Joe Wendle who has flashed a plus bat at second base, while being a tick older for his level. I simply can’t wait to see how it plays out. Guys like Kyle Crockett, Ronny Rodriguez and Tony Wolters are just gravy.
Q: Is there any sort of debut at an affiliate you are very excited about and looking forward to, and why? This could be a pro debut or someone moving up to a new level for the first time, etc.
Jim Pete: There are interesting guys at every level, with the possible exception of Carolina unfortunately. In Lake County, I like Adam Plutko. In Akron, take your pick. In Columbus, Aguilar and JRam come to mind. While I like to get quirky with this one, I'm going to just get this out of the way: I'm excited about wherever and whatever Francisco Lindor is doing this year. He's a year out or less, and he's starting to turn it into overdrive with his talent, so while he's not debuting in Akron, he WILL be debuting in Columbus before too long, and without a doubt, Cleveland as well. S.P.E.C.I.A.L.
Michael Goodman: I don’t know if this is the right answer because he won’t be starting there, but I’m excited to see Lindor in AAA at some point this season. He impressed upon moving up to Akron and I expect that he’ll continue where he left off last season. I’m hoping for a mid-season call-up to Columbus. I think it’s important for Lindor to show that he can hang with some of the more experienced competition in the International League as he prepares for eventually taking over for Asdrubal Cabrera in Cleveland.
Jim Piascik: I know I'm very interested to see how Wendle does in Double-A. All he did was hit in Carolina, though some wrote it off based on his age. I will be looking forward to see how Wendle handles the Eastern League and if he can still hit like he did in 2013. Because if he did, then Cleveland got one of the steals of the draft in the second baseman.
Steve Orbanek: Jesus Aguilar at Columbus. For the last few years, we have continually heard how he really does not profile as a Major League regular despite the fact that he continues to perform wherever he plays. Finally, it appears as if he could be on the cusp of making the Majors, which makes his season at Columbus all the more important. Of course, this debut is even more exciting considering that Aguilar had an absolutely torrid winter performance in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Charlie Adams: Cody Anderson at the Double-A level for the Akron Aeros. He received some exposure at this level towards the end of 2013, and didn’t make the necessary adjustments. In 2014, he will be looking to make the big jump up to Double-A competition and prove that his stellar performance across the three levels of Single-A ball. He is really the only Tribe pitching prospect that has any momentum now.
Stephanie Metzger: I'm interested to see how Jesus Aguilar fares in Columbus. He seemed to put things together last year, especially as he appeared to develop a better handle on breaking pitches. Moving up to AAA will obviously result in him facing more advanced and experienced pitching, so I'm looking forward to seeing how he handles it.
Michael Hattery: In order to discuss Joe Wendle as little as possible, I will go with Adam Plutko. Plutko is a guy who seems to be as close to a finished product as you can find in a draft in terms of what he is going to be, yet the Tribe gave him a rather unaggressive placement in Lake County. The ceiling is limited but the floor is 4 or 5 starter with the ability to move through the system quickly. I am excited to see how quickly he can force his way up the ladder.
Q: Are there any specific roster issues you are looking forward to see work their way out over the course of the season?
Jim Pete: Jason Kipnis isn't going anywhere, and Francisco Lindor is going to be an all-star shortstop. I have to wonder what the Indians are going to do with Joe Wendle, Jose Ramirez and Ronnie Rodriguez going forward, because they all could be good to really good major league players, but haven't been moved to another position as of yet. My big curiosity over the course of 2014 will be what the Indians do with them as Lindor asserts himself as an amazing player. Will they wait another year, or will we see a shift of one of these guys to third or the outfield or more utilized as an uber-utility guy, or will they potentially deal one or more? Then there is the irrational part of me that keeps saying "move Kipnis and put JRam at second," but don't see the Indians doing that...yet.
Michael Goodman: It’s going to be interesting to see how the system’s plethora of shortstop prospects progress. Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Ronny Rodriguez, Erik Gonzalez, and Dorsyss Paulino are all guys who are going to see time at short at their various levels. I certainly hope that they all have success this season, but that success will demand promotions. How is the team going to manage to challenge all of these players at the same time?
Jim Piascik: The catching glut in the system will be interesting to watch. Injuries and underperformance tend to sort these issues out, but right now, the organization has too many catchers. Keeping veterans Roberto Perez and Luke Carlin in Columbus has forced Wolters, Jake Lowery and Alex Lavisky into one Akron slot. Alex Monslave should get a chance in Double-A, but he is stuck in Carolina. Eric Haase looked ready to go to High-A, but he is still in Lake County. And Francisco Mejia is nowhere yet. This should shake out eventually -- again, injuries, underperformance, new positions for someone like Lowery -- but right now it is crowded.
Steve Orbanek: Sticking with Aguilar, it will be interesting to see what happens with him and David Cooper at Columbus. Both are first baseman, and they are both viewed as as players who could possibly help the Indians this season, but which player will get the most time at the position? The situation could have been worse had the Indians not released Chun-Hsiu Chen from the organization a few days ago, and there could be a chance that was done because the team saw the logjam at the position. My guess is that we will eventually see either Cooper or Aguilar take on the majority of the reps at first base, which will probably also be indicative of the current player's standing within the organization.
Charlie Adams: The one I will be following most closely is the organization-wide middle infield situation. Asdrubal Cabrera is almost a certainty to be in another uniform after 2014, but could very well get traded mid-season if Francisco Lindor continues to excel and is deemed ready to make the jump. Jason Kipnis is under team control through 2017 and contract talks of an extension could be influenced by the performances of guys like Jose Ramirez, Joe Wendle, Ronny Rodriguez and Dorsyss Paulino. The better the performances of this group, the less aggressive the Indians should be with locking up their star.
Stephanie Metzger: The outfield situation always intrigues me across all levels. This year, the Akron outfield is interesting considering Tyler Holt is the veteran outfielder there, yet he's also considered the fourth outfielder.
Michael Hattery: The infield in Akron will be very interesting in terms of who moves quickly as well as who is show priority, specifically second, shortstop and third. With Urshela, Lindor, Wendle, and Ronny Rodriguez, there is some legitimate overlap and at bats must be balanced in some manner. Especially with Erik Gonzalez pushing to move up from Carolina.
Q: Is there a player who maybe had a down year last year due to injury or performance issues that you think could be primed for a comeback season?
Jim Pete: I'm still not sold on Trevor Bauer, and while some might say JRam, he was pretty outstanding in a lot of ways in Akron when he was healthy. The guy I think could be absolutely special with a year of health is Levon Washington. When he's been healthy and had his head on straight, he's put up elite numbers. This is really his last chance to turn what's become irrelevance into true prospect status again. He's in Carolina this year, a notorious pitcher's league, and if he maintains health and just does what he's supposed to, he can still be a major player in this organization going forward. There are A TON of ifs though, but I'm going to look optimistic here. I would put Bryson Myles in the health boat as well. One big year could alter things for both.
Michael Goodman: I think the obvious answer here is Dorssys Paulino. He’ll be repeating at Lake County and looking to build upon a year that finished on a high note. I’m actually glad he experienced this type of setback and showed that he was able to gut it out and improve through the course of the season. Sometimes with a top prospect they don’t experience the type of year he had until they reach AAA or the majors. The talent is still there, and I think he comes out of the gates strong and earns a promotion to Carolina by mid-season. He’ll be back near the top of the Indians’ top prospect lists by 2015.
Jim Piascik: Ronny Rodriguez. All day, every day. Sure, we can complain about the walk rate, the errors, etc., but Rodriguez has the raw talent that can't be taught. Plus, it is not like Rodriguez is not improving. He has cut his strikeout rate each year since his full season debut in 2011 while moving up a level each season. He was tearing it up following a swing adjustment last year before he got hurt (he posted a .370/.387/.563 line with a 11.9 percent strikeout rate from May 14 to June 22, the point of the swing adjustment to getting injured), and I absolutely can see Rodriguez storming back and reclaiming his spot as a top prospect. It will be hard with Lindor and Wendle entrenched in Akron, but if Rodriguez plays up to his potential, the organization will have to find a way. Oh, and also #WashTime. Always #WashTime.
Steve Orbanek: I expect big things from Trevor Bauer this season. One of the more interesting things to come out of spring training was the news that Bauer's velocity had completely returned. Once again, the right-hander was able to routinely touch 97 and 98 miles per hour. He will never be great in the area of control, but he may not need to be either, and that's especially true in the minors. Remember, Baur was topping out in the high 80s at some points last season, yet he was still able to have some success. Now, imagine how he will do when he can just blow his heater by batters at Columbus. This could be a very special season for the UCLA product.
Charlie Adams: Jose Ramirez had a rough year at Double-A, only hitting 272/325/349. Considering he has never hit below 300 before that and has a career OBP close to 400, 2013 was a down year when it came to results. However, he continued his excellent discipline by posting nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Extended time at Triple-A will give him plenty of opportunity to prove he is the high-average, disciplined hitter his past performances suggest.
Stephanie Metzger: LeVon Washington. WashTime was hit by injury again last year, but he didn't disappoint during the time he did play. When he's healthy, WashTime runs, hits and forces opponents to make plays. He's worked his tail off during the offseason, so hopefully this'll finally be the year everything falls into place.
Michael Hattery: Dorssys Paulino is the answer even though #Washtime would be fun for repetitions sake. Paulino improved as the season went along but was unable to revive himself from a fairly dismal start. The hit tool is still impressive and it is not unfair to expect a legitimate step forward in his second year of full season baseball. For me, plate discipline will be the ultimate test for Paulino, can his walk rate improve to the point that he has a competent OBP. Honorable Mention: I think Mitch Brown pops this year, major helium potential.
Q: What do you think is the strength of the Indians' farm system and why?
Jim Pete: Keep it simple stupid: Middle Infield--Jason Kipnis, Joe Wendle, JRam, Asdrubal Cabrera, RRod and of course Francisco Lindor, are all in the majors already, or could be this year. They are all either ready, or a half-year away, and yes, that includes Wendle. Don't let the conservatives fool you. Relief Pitchers: CC Lee, Austin Adams, Shawn Armstrong, Tyler Sturdevant, Giovanni Soto, Nick Hagadone and Kyle Crockett, are all guys that are right there, and could be very good for the bullpen. Both have more depth that I've named, but further down. Just really nice depth there.
Michael Goodman: I think the strength is up the middle. The system is stocked with middle infield and catching prospects. In Akron, a legitimate prospect in Ronny Rodriguez is going to have inconsistent playing time at second and short due to the presence of Lindor and Joey Wendle. Below Akron, Erik Gonzalez at Carolina and Dorssys Paulino at Lake County are high-end prospects in their own right who will need to play every day. The system’s catching depth is highlighted by Tony Wolters at Akron, Alex Monsalve at Carolina, and Eric Haase at Lake County. Even in center field, Tyler Naquin and Clint Frazier give the team two top prospects.
Jim Piascik: I mean, the organization is still deep in shortstops, but at this point, I have to go with right-handed relief prospects. In Columbus there's Austin Adams and C.C. Lee (with Bryan Price not assigned anywhere yet and Mark Lowe not a prospect but in Triple-A). In Akron there's Shawn Armstrong, Tyler Sturdevant, and Enosil Tejeda. Plus Preston Guilmet and Frank Herrmann depending on the results of both being designated for assignment. Plus Matt Langwell may be coming back into the fold shortly. I honestly think a bullpen of Adams, Lee, Price, Armstrong, Tejeda, Guilmet, and Herrmann could survive in the majors now (not without their lumps, for sure) and they are all in the minors. There is some massive right-handed relief depth in this system.
Steve Orbanek: I would have to say middle infielders. We all hear about Francisco Lindor, but the reality is that the Indians have at least three other players in Jose Ramirez, Joe Wendle and Dorssys Paulino who could one day profile as regulars at the Major League level. That's impressive, especially when you consider that current second baseman Jason Kipnis is not too far removed from the farm system either.
Charlie Adams: The strength of the Indians farm system continues to be up the middle with catchers and middle infielders to get excited about. Tony Wolters is an interesting growth story behind the plate and the celing and depth at 2B and SS is well-known. Power-hitting OF’s and 1B/3B continue to be question marks throughout the organization; though Clint Frazier certainly hopes to change that.
Stephanie Metzger: This is probably the easiest, obvious answer, but the crop of infielders gives me the most hope. Jose Ramirez went from a "Who?" name to a kid to be excited about. He may never be a major league infield starter, but I can see him performing well off the bench. Lindor is the most obvious reason the infield shows strength, and Paulino's bat still suggests promise. Even Ronny Rodriguez and Giovanny Urshela are guys who can't be written off, and then there's Wendle, whose bat has carried him well the last two seasons.
Michael Hattery: Middle infield, beyond a shadow of a doubt. A star level talent in Lindor, a couple of potential major league starters in Ramirez, Paulino and Wendle, as well as a potential utility guy in Erik Gonzalez. That is absolutely outstanding up the middle talent which is a distinct asset.
Q: Is there a player maybe not highly rated or overlooked who you think may be in line for a breakout season, and why?
Jim Pete: This guy is fairly high-rated, as Tony has him in the top 20, but I still think he's overlooked because of other outfielders much higher in the rankings that really aren't that much better than he is, and that's Jordan Smith. Here is all that I'm saying about Smith, and I'll leave it for others to shoot this down if they'd prefer: Smith was an exceptional outfielder last year, and is such a natural player. He has a big arm, has quick reads, and runs the bases well. His hit tool is really good, and I KNOW there's power there. Even without it, I watched him jack the gaps in Carolina last year. He can play all three outfield positions, and is just scratching the surface of what he can do. I'd put Myles here as well.
Michael Goodman: Luis Lugo. I suppose he’s moving up in the prospect rankings, but I’m not sure he’s still getting his due. What he did last year in Mahoning Valley was impressive, and I think he has the potential to take another step forward at Lake County this year. It’d be nice to see him add a couple miles per hour to his fastball, but he’s in a good place in his development. Last year he showed improved control, and this year with further refinement of his secondary pitchers he could see a big step forward in his strikeout rate. He could become the top pitching prospect in the system outside of Cody Anderson by the time the year is up.
Jim Piascik: I'm going to hedge on Cleveland's second, third, and fourth round picks in 2012. None of Mitch Brown (IBI's #27 prospect), Kieran Lovegrove (#37), and D'vone McClure (not in the top 50) had good seasons in 2013, taking some of the shine off of them as prospects. Plus only Brown is on a full season roster right now with Brown in the Lake County rotation. This will be the critical season for these three: their second full professional season. They all spent last year as a professional from start to finish for the first time and know what to expect this year. They all have talent, but this will be the year we see if they still have a shot at fulfilling it.
Steve Orbanek: Sometime last year, I happened to hop aboard Jim Pete's "Logan Vick bandwagon." I thought it would be a bumpy ride, but I have to admit that I've been pleasantly surprised. In 108 games at Lake County last season, Vick compiled a .281/.413/.407 with 25 stolen bases. He also happened to walk as many times as he struck out (81). He ended the season at Carolina, which is exactly where he will start the 2014 season. He's certainly not a superstar, but there are enough tools there to have me intrigued. Some consider the High-A level to be one of the toughest stops in the career of the minor leaguer, so it will be interesting to see how Viock adapts to a full season of work. I tend to believe that good things could be in his future.
Charlie Adams: Carlos Moncrief showed impressive discipline and solid power at Double-A in 2013. He will play in Columbus to start 2014, but he should figure into the Indians plans sooner rather than later. He draws walks, has legitimate 20-HR power and should play solid defense in a corner. It may be tough to break into the Majors with David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley all locked in at the big-league level. However, Moncrief should post strong numbers and set himself up for a role in 2015.
Stephanie Metzger: Adam Plutko. Plutko may not throw hard and may have a limited repertoire of pitches, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't celebrate when he signed. He won me over during the College World Series and he's an arm I hope to see in the back end of a rotation someday. This is his first year playing pro ball, so I'm interested to see how he transitions from his successful college career.
Michael Hattery: Bryson Myles. As one would notice I communicate with Jim Pete obsessively, it occasionally has its perks. Jim has talked to more people about and seen more games of the Mudcats, than anyone at IBI. Among the players he loves is Bryson Myles. I have to buy in the plate discipline is alright, and he seems to have the sort of tools that could explode if he was healthy for a full season. The increasing power production from Lake County to Carolina is a large indicator as Lake County has a more favorable park factor for hitters, so Myles power took a legitimate step forward, will again in 2014.
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.
Another potential breakout year canidate is Levon Washington. Good first game. How can we keep healthy for the full year?