IBI Power Poll: Is there an Impact Surprise in 2014?
Danny Salazar and Yan Gomes surprised in 2013. Is there another in 2014?
In a season in which the Cleveland Indians surprised many by winning 92 games and making the playoffs, perhaps the biggest revelation within the surprise was the emergence of right-handed starting pitcher Danny Salazar.
Salazar started the season off the big league radar of most national pundits. While he ranked in many of the Indians’ prospects top-ten lists, not many considered him an option for the 2013 Cleveland Indians roster, nor did many figure him into the conversation when it came to the starting rotation short or long-term.
In fairness, Salazar had spent much of his minor league time either injured, or on a short-leash in recovery of injury. In 2010, Salazar needed Tommy John surgery, and it’s been a long-road back for the Indians’ newcomer. While many wrote Salazar off, the injury turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise. When he began throwing, he had a substantial uptick in velocity, and improved his delivery.
The Indians likewise developed him slowly from that point on. In 2011, he returned and pitched in eight games over a month-long period in both Arizona and Lake County. In 2012, he started the year off in Carolina, making 16 starts for the Mudcats, with only five of those starts going four innings or more, and three of those five coming in his last three starts at High A. He also missed a month after his first two starts thanks to some arm problems, which likely convinced the Indians to pull back even more.
He closed that season out in Akron, making six starts, and all but one of those starts went over five innings, and three went over six. The Indians were being cautious, but were slowly but surely taking off the bubble wrap. While they were mum on their long-term intentions with Salazar, it was clear that their actions were showcasing just how much they thought of his ability.
Salazar spent a short month in Akron to start 2013, and when he made the move to Columbus at the beginning of May, it was clear that he was a legit consideration for the Big League club if he continued to dominate the way he had at every prior level. The only question was whether or not the arm would hold up. They kept Salazar right around five innings during that first stint, before calling him up to Cleveland for a spot start against Toronto in July. He hit 100 against the Blue Jays, and had a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
They sent him down after that, but he returned full-time in August, and in his first game, struck out ten against the Tigers, including three K’s against Miguel Cabrera. Salazar provided the support for the Indians with Corey Kluberout, then Masterson after him. He struck out 65 in 52 innings, while walking only 15. He struck out 11.25 per nine.
The emergence of Salazar shaped the end of their 2013 season, and perhaps pushed Ubaldo Jimenez to his phenomenal finish. Salazar himself found himself starting the playoff game, and having a full season of Salazar likely allowed the Indians to focus their attention this offseason away from their starting rotation as well, as Jimenez and Scott Kazmir were allowed to walk away. While the Indians could still sign Jimenez, Salazar will fill the role of one of those guys at the top end of the rotation.
Salazar truly was a revelation to the Indians in 2013 and beyond, and was the pure definition of an Impact Surprise.
The question for 2014 is whether or not the Indians have a player in the minor leagues that could mimic what Salazar did last year? Is there a starter that can join this Indians’ rotation in 2014 and could become a revelation? Is there a position player that could find their way onto this team and become a force, or even a factor?
I’m going to leave the definition of surprise to the reader, for the simple fact that there are many different things you could constitute a surprise. What you need to keep in mind though is whether or not these players can be “Impact Surprise” players this season, and that’s where we’ll get some separation.
Would Trevor Bauer be a surprise this year if he excels even though he’s a top 100 prospect, and has been ranked in the top five prior to this season?
Would Francisco Lindor be a surprise, even though he’s essentially the unanimous Indians’ top prospect this season, even if he doesn’t appear to be a 2014 factor?
Would Jose Ramirez be a surprise, even though he spent a month with the Indians in 2013 as a speedy option on the basepaths?
That’s for you to decide.
The key here is that we are talking about minor leaguers by definition, and not players that have spent any significant time at the major league level recently. I did include David Cooper on this list, even though he’s played in 72 games at the big league level. He’s probably the one exception. I may have missed someone on your list, but feel free to leave a comment. I think I got them all. I also didn't include relievers, although that point can be argued. Feel free to argue...looking forward to it.
Here are the top eleven candidates:
Trevor Bauer: I don’t know how you couldn’t consider Bauer a surprise if he somehow makes this team full-time in 2014. Bauer struggled last season. In Cleveland, he went 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA, and averaged nearly nine walks per nine innings. It wasn’t much better in the minors, going 6-7 with a 4.15 ERA in 22 starts, walking nearly 5.4. He also so a substantial drop in his K’s per 9. Now, according to many including Terry Francona, his delivery is reverting back to the one that made him a top prospect. It’s early yet, but if Bauer turns things around, he could make a significant impact in 2014, and may be the epitome of “Surprise Impact” player.
Carlos Moncrief: Moncrief is on the 40-man roster, and while I don’t see a fit for the toolsy outfielder right now, you never really know what could happen as the season progresses. Moncrief, who is only a year younger than Michael Brantley, is a late-bloomer, which has been documented many times over here at IBI. He can hit for power, has okay speed, and is a plus defender. The only way that he “breaks out” though is if there are significant injuries ahead of him. I don’t see Moncrief being a factor, but you just never know what he could do in Columbus, how it factors with the Indians’ brass, and how chips fall ahead of him with regards to injuries and trades. There would have to be significant dominoes falling for Moncrief to do any damage, and it would be a seismic surprise in the organization if it happened, but I’m not sure of his overall impact. With a possible regression candidate in Ryan Raburn, there's a small part of me that would like to see him be a candidate to replace Raburn should that happen, but Moncrief is a lefty hitter, which would limit that move, as Murphy is already there.
T.J. House: House is a great story, and as Tony or I could tell you, these stories are why we love the minor leagues so much. House was a youngster that the Indians felt could have some upside. He went to High A Carolina, and just got stuck. He struggled throwing strikes, and wasn’t the most fit of pitchers, but things really changed for House in 2012, his third year in the Carolina League. He came into camp as fit as I’d ever seen him, and he began throwing more strikes, and far less walks. That hasn’t stopped as he’s now risen through the ranks. He’s not a dominant guy, but he can log a ton of innings, and he will battle. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a lefty. I don’t see House being a major factor, but I would be surprised if he didn’t make some spot starts this season for the Indians, either as a change-of-pace lefty, or because of injuries. That wouldn’t be the surprise. The surprise would be if he can stick with the Indians, and become an impact player.
Jose Ramirez: For those that read my columns, you’ll probably have noted that I’m a JRam guy. It’s an odd fit for me, since Ramirez didn’t spend any time here at Carolina, but perhaps there is your answer. The Carolina League has always been that first salvo for all of the Indians’ top prospects, and for JRam to skip this level at such a young age really spoke to me about what the front office thought about his make-up. I’m not going to get into a discussion about his talents, but will just say that the Indians handled him in such a way that leads me to believe he’s got far more to offer than people give him credit for. Terry Francona is very high on him, according to every source I have, and he could be an interesting play. Now, his downside is that he doesn’t have a clear position right now, but what happens if there’s an injury or a trade in the middle infield? Ramirez will likely get the first look, and then we can finally put to bed just how good he really is. The surprise to many would be his impact, as I believe many see him as a simple utility player. He can be much, much more, and on a contending team. Plus, he wears fur coats. You don’t get much better than that.
Joe Wendle: I can’t mention JRam without following up with Wendle. Now, I don’t know that Wendle is as talented as JRam in measurables, but there is a lot more there than the national pundits that have never actually seen him play give him credit for. Of course, Wendle is a polar opposite to JRam, and not being on the 40-man roster hurts him with regards to getting a spot long before JRam, but say the Indians include Ramirez in a package trade at the deadline, could Wendle make himself a presence on this team? Wendle brings power to the equation, and he has a workmanlike presence that all ballclubs need. He’s not as good a defender, but he looks to be better than some other interesting players that have come through the system in the past, such as Cord Phelps. The question really is whether or not Wendle is more like Phelps or more like Kipnis? I’d be happy somewhere in the middle, and could see Wendle in an impact role similar to a guy like Mike Aviles down the road, which likely limits his upside this year…or does it? Wendle would be a massive surprise, and could potentially have big bat impact. Of course, there are many ifs there.
Cody Anderson: Steve Orbanek made a case a few weeks back that Cody Anderson is following the same path as Danny Salazar. It’s funny, because I’ve seen and talked to Anderson more than Salazar, but never connected that path, even though I noted his massive gains this year with regards to prospect potential. Here are the facts: Anderson is a big righty with good velocity and good stuff. He’s a hard worker, and really has improved from level-to-level. While he doesn’t have a gun like Salazar, he may prove to be more durable, and still has the type of unknown upside that could bring out more “stuff” as he continues to learn the art of pitching. Like Salazar before him, Anderson started the year off in Carolina, before bumping up to Akron late in the year. This reliever who was converted to a starter has a strong mental make-up, and a potential plus four-pitch arsenal. If the group of Josh Tomlin, Shaun Marcum, Trevor Bauer or Carlos Carrasco don’t pan out in the rotation, Anderson could get a look if he continues on his trajectory. He could be the very definition of Impact Surprise in 2014.
Jesus Aguilar: I’m always intrigued with guys that everybody discounts. Aguilar is an interesting one, because he’s the rare case of a player that year-in and year-out has impressive numbers of some kind, yet is always overlooked by not only the national media, but by the local media as well. He’s been dubbed “overrated” long before rated should even be a part of the equation. Look, Aguilar isn’t perfect, and he doesn’t really fit in a category. He has good power, but he has holes in his swing. These holes aren’t as big as they were two years ago, but they are there. Major league pitchers will likely figure them out. The question is will Aguilar get a chance, and will pitchers adjust to him before he adjusts, if he does get that chance? It’s all intriguing. Like many of these players, Aguilar will need some things to happen for him to get his chance.
David Cooper: Perhaps the biggest road block in Aguilar’s way is David Cooper, who the Indians are giving a chance to do some damage this year, after the Indians signed him last year when the Blue Jays cut him in a money-saving move after injury. He was released by the Tribe in September, but quickly re-signed by the Tribe for 2014. I am curious about Cooper, who has an interesting skill set. He can hit for decent power, can find the gaps, can hit for average, and is a good defender at first base. He kinda reminds me of Nick Swisher in many ways, who he will technically be competing against. If he’s healthy, and if he performs, I have to believe that the Indians will call him up before Aguilar, unless Aguilar tears up Columbus, which is possible. Of course, the Indians may prefer Cooper based on his major league sample and defensive abilities. Aguilar would likely be the bigger surprise and impact, but perhaps Cooper will provide a “safer” pick.
Francisco Lindor: Do I have to go too far into this one? Lindor may provide the biggest impact of any player on this list for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, he immediately becomes the best defensive player on this team when he makes it. I can’t begin to tell you what it was like watching him on a daily basis. Those that knock him for his errors in the Carolina League need to really back off instead of showcasing a complete lack of minor league knowledge. Watching him field baseballs is like watching van Gogh paint, or Ansel Adams take photographs. Once he gets his bearings at a big league level, he is going to be special. He also has a really nice bat that’s still in its developmental stage. What he understands better than most is what he’s supposed to do as a top-of-the-order bat. He doesn’t try to do too much, or too little. This kid is going to impact when he joins the club. The big question is whether or not it will be this year or next year. What will it take to make it happen this year? My preference would be for Lindor just to force his way onto this club by destroying Akron and Columbus. Of course, if Asdrubal Cabreragets hurt or underperforms, Lindor could back his way into Cleveland as well. This kid will be a leader from day one.
Tyler Naquin: I mention Naquin here because he’s a number 1 pick, and because he does have some interesting intangibles. I’m not going to lie, this is a hopeful pick for me. My hope here is that Naquin finds something that he’s never really shown up to this point, and that’s selectivity. While he has gap power and is a nice defender, I just don’t see a game that is all that special in comparison to some others in this organization. I’ve heard enough about his make-up to see a kid that could turn things around, I just don’t know that it’s enough to leapfrog onto the major league squad in 2014, and maybe even beyond.
Adam Plutko: This is undoubtedly a stretch, but who cares. I’m basing this completely on the theory of several friends, including Jeff Ellis, who believes that Plutko has a shot at the bigs this year. Now, he has a lot in front of him, but his make-up is special, and while his stuff isn’t, this is a kid that understands how to pitch the baseball. He’ll likely start the year off in Carolina, and if he makes an early move to Akron, really pay attention to what he’s doing from start-to-start. He has a good delivery and mentality, and may have the closest “game” to the bigs as any other starter in the system. The only guys in front of him in my eyes long term are Cody Anderson and Bauer. There are others that will likely get their chances first, but Plutko could be a quick mover.
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is probably why Chisenhall was not on the list...
1. Tyler Naquin/Levon Washington CF
2. Francisco Lindor SS
3. Jason Kipnis 2B
4. Carlos Santana DH
5. Clint Frazier RF
6. Michael Brantley LF
7. Nick Swisher 1B
8. Yan Gomes C
9. Jose Ramirez/Lonnie Chisenhall 3B
Rotation: Masterson-Salazar-Anderson-Bauer-McCalister. In a surprise move Corey Kluber has been moved to closer.
I love JRAM but its hard to see him getting much of a shot without things going off the rails. I mean you already have Aviles to fill his position. I think his best shot is a platoon with Chiz. As much as I like JRam I really really hope that Chisenhall can become a productive core player this season. Say .267 with 17-19 homers and alot of doubles. It would be a huge boon if he could assert himself as THE 3B man.
I think Jram could be a super super utility guy in the future, backing up Lindor and Kipnis as well as platooning with Chiz and maybe even playing some outfield.
Back to Cooper. If Chiz just does not workout then you could have Santana take over at 3B and have Swisher, Cooper and Aguiler or Francour share the 1B and DH duties.
In regards to Bauer I wouldn't be that surprised if he becomes a major part of the rotation in 14. This team needs Salazar-Bauer-Anderson to form the core of the rotation for years to come.
I think I may have gone Carrasco here though had he been on the list (I know why he wasn't included, too much big league experience). I'll probably be wrong but holding out hope he finally breaks out this year. Pretty much has a job to lose at this point too.
I don't see another bat having as much of an impact unless Cabrera or Kipnis get hurt. If Cabrera gets hurt maybe Ramirez comes up as a short term fill in....but it won't be long enough to make an impact as Lindor would get the shot if the need is for a long time or if Cabrera is traded. And I just don't see Ramirez factoring in much with Aviles around. We will see. Same with Lindor.....just don't think he gets a shot to impact unless injury opens the door.
This could be a big year for Cleveland Minor league system. I think Myles, Moncrief, Baker, Plutko, Kime and Naquin could become options in 15.
Why? He's a SP. He's a LHSP. He's 24yo and has improved every season.
It's strange, there was some hype around him after he was drafted, but a bad 2011 pretty much shot it down. Then, quietly, he put up two back to back good seasons while getting promoted, improving in both during the season.
Every time he got to a new level he struggled at first, but then settled down and was pretty good. That happened in AA in 2012 and AAA in 2013.
Since June, in his last 12 starts for Columbus, his stats are:
71.2IP, 79H, 24ER, 22BB, 61SO, 3.01ERA, 1.41WHIP
It's not great, but he reminds me of a LHP version of Kluber. He doesn't have his stuff of course, but something tells me he'll be part of the Indians roster in the near future, be it as a 5th starter or out of the BP.
TLee, you are right of course, it is a bit of daydreaming and thanks for throwing a cold bucket of reality to bring me out of my fantasy ideas.
I will say that the greater likelihood is that Ramirez starts out in Columbus and I hope proves himself there, puts some substance behind the excitement he's brought so far and hopefully points to future success.
I think Jose's floor is as a super dynamic utility player but still think his ceiling is as a terrific 2nd basemen. I think he'll provide great value to the team, either as a player or in a trade (either of himself or even of Kipnis somewhere down the road). It'll be fun to see how it works out!
Good comments all around, I enjoy the discussion!
Ramirez could be good a useful piece to the puzzle, but he needs to bat around.300 to be a major impact. Otherwise he is just a speedy utility guy with a solid hit tool. Thats not a bad thing, just not the impact I think most are hoping for.
And yeah, Ramirez would make a move to LF long before Kipnis would be moved back out there.
Then we get more than a small sample size of hitting in a hitters league (AFL) and we realize that Paulino actually isn't that special. Still a nice prospect, but I think we have a tendency to get too excited about these prospects and forget that most of them fail.
As a wise man from The CPT once said , "Your bark was loud but your bite wasn't viscous"
No one would read articles like this if you just said, "Well, none of these guys are really that good", so give the reader something to get excited about by hyping them up so they have fun reading and they come back.
Real enough for you?
Jason Kipnis was .284/.366/.452 in MLB last year, and people are clamoring for a guy that went .272/.325/.349 in Double-A last year? Jose Ramirez is light years away from moving Jason Kipnis off 2b. That's CRAZY talk.
Don't understand how Adam Plutko is on this list but Kyle Crockett is not?
If I had a second vote I'd pick Trevor Bauer, I think he really comes on this season to give the Tribe a one - two combo with Danny Salazar. I know, it's unlikely right now, but the ceiling is there and Bauer will work to reach it.
If a cpl of Bauer, Anderson, Plutko and Baker reach their ceilings combined with Salazar, McAllister and Kluber the Tribe could have the makings of a good SP staff.
I think you'll like it, although it created a bit of a stir. You can move all-star caliber players...Santana is proving that this year. I'm not saying they should...but boy...watch Lindor and JRam play their respective positions...and it's poetry...
But to me, I think JRam could well establish himself as a terrific 2nd baseman before the inevitable arrival of Lindor, thus making for an amazingly dynamic double play combination for many years to come!
I'd love to see that happen but understand fully that even with Francona and the FO appreciating his game, it's just not going to happen. But I can imagine a young up-the-middle defense of Gomes, JRam, Lindor and, what the heck, Kipnis in CF, for the next 5 years or so could be what dynasties are built on!
I'll go JRam as I think Francona already likes what Jose can bring to the table and might get more of a chance.