IBI Roundtable: Thoughts about the minors in 2013
Opening night is here for the minor leagues.
The Minor League Baseball season kicks off tonight as all of Triple-A Columbus, Double-A Akron and Low-A Lake County open their seasons. High-A Carolina has to wait a day as they open their season on Friday.
With another season in the minors set to begin, it means once again that the IBI will be your one stop shop for everything minor league baseball related with player features, game stories for all the 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, and so much more.
Anyway, you will get tons of comments from me on the farm system throughout the season, but I polled several of the site writers to get their take on things as the season gets ready to begin. Acting as the moderator, here are their thoughts…
Q: What affiliate are you most excited to follow in the early going?
Jim Pete: The Carolina Mudcats. You start with Francisco Lindor, who is the most dynamic player in the system last year. Next in line is Jordan Smith, who is power away from being one of the top three offensive players in the minors, if he isn’t already. Tony Wolters returns, and as a catcher to boot. Tyler Naquin should start the year in center, and is immensely underrated. Jerrud “Saber-tooth Tiger” Sabourin was the biggest offensive surprise in the system last year. Joey “Mr.” Wendle could hit .300 in the Carolina League (which is saying something). Jake Lowery is back on this team, and he could be very good. You sprinkle in some potential with Bryson Myles, and you have a team that could explode in 2013. I didn’t even talk pitching. Honorable Mention: Akron Aeros.
Steve Orbanek: If you asked me this question a couple of months ago, I would have said High-A Carolina. However, the promotion of Jose Ramirez to Double-A Akron really makes me eager to follow the Aeros. Between Ramirez, first baseman Jesus Aguilar, third baseman Giovanny Urshela and starting pitcher Danny Salazar, this will be an exciting team to watch as far as prospects go. It's amazing what kind of difference a year can make. Last year, Akron was almost completely lacking in prospects but look at that team now.
Jim Piascik: It’s a total homer pick since I cover them, but I am most excited to follow Akron in the early going. Last year’s championship run was amazing, but there were not many high-level prospects on that team. Watching Akron win games was great, but it was always in the back of my mind that very few of these players could help the big league club down the line. Now, I will get to see Jose Ramirez, Ronny Rodriguez, Danny Salazar, Jesus Aguilar, Giovanny Urshela, Carlos Moncrief, and more. I could not be more excited for Opening Day.
Charlie Adams: The Indians farm system is interesting from Low-A all the way through Triple-A, but the Akron Aeros catch my attention the most. Not only do they have intriguing prospects that most people are talking about (Aguilar, Holt, House and Salazar), they have the Indians single biggest sleeper prospect in Jose Ramirez. Compound a good mix of pitching and hitting prospects with the notion that Double-A is the first true litmus test for prospects and I consider the Akron Aeros the can’t miss affiliate location in 2013.
Jeff Ellis: The affiliate I am most intrigued to watch is the Akron Aeros. The reason is for the first time in years it is a team loaded with interesting players. Jose Ramirez is the top prospect in the system that no one knows except the diehards. Carlos Moncrief has some of the best physical tools in the whole system. Then you add in the name prospects like Ronny Rodriquez and Danny Salazar, and you got four guys who could all take major leaps this year. If you add in Shawn Armstrong that is five of my personal top 15 on this team alone.
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: Danny Salazar. It looks like Salazar will start the year off in Akron, but I don’t think that will be for very long. Salazar was on a slow burn last year. The Indians had him on a severe innings threshold last year, and will likely have him on a much less severe threshold this year. His arm really built up over the 2012 season. After he came off an early season stint on the DL, he was throwing in the low-90’s, and going no more than three innings a stint. When he left Carolina near the end of the season, he was throwing five-plus innings and sitting in the mid-90’s. When he unleashes the hounds, he can get it in the upper 90’s. If he can stay healthy, I think he ends up in Columbus by May, and is in the Indians conversation by August. He is explosive, and I don’t know that people realize just how explosive he is. Honorable mention: Jose Ramirez and Tyler Naquin.
Steve Orbanek: Personally, I cannot wait to see what Dorssys Paulino brings to the table at Single-A Lake County. He turned a lot of heads last season when he made his professional debut, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in his first full minor league season. I, like many others, am expecting big things.
Jim Piascik: For me, it has to be Jose Ramirez. His rise to prominence in the system has been documented here this offseason, but moving him from Single-A Lake County to Double-A Akron – right past High-A Carolina – ratchets up the attention once again. The front office has a bit of a reputation for being conservative with promoting prospects, but they went aggressive here. If Ramirez plays decently and sticks at Akron, that would be great. If Ramirez keeps producing like he did last season and over the winter, that would be incredible. The jump to Double-A is extremely hard and watching Ramirez try to pull off moving up two levels will be fascinating.
Charlie Adams: Jose Ramirez in Double-A, I think he will continue to mash the baseball and play above average defense at 2B. He could quickly find himself in need of a new organization because he is running into Kipnis at the Major League level. Second thing I’ll be looking for is the Carolina Mudcats roundup to see if Naquin is adding any power. His usefulness begins and ends with 10+ HR power. If he starts to develop that pop, they have a legit 1st rounder, if he doesn’t, then they have a big question mark.
Jeff Ellis: The debut I can't wait to see is Tony Wolters, with Carolina. This move to catcher intrigues me, because it takes him from a utility guy to a potential starter down the road. If there is anyone in the minors with the work ethic, skills, and adaptability to make this move, it’s Wolters. He moved off shortstop for the good of the team and now is doing it again. I have faith in him that he will turn into at least an average defensive catcher. There is not another player in the system I would have that much faith in moving to such a challenging position.
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: The middle infield will have to shuffle itself out soon. It was a lower-level issue last year, and that was before Jose Ramirez was a factor. Starting in Columbus, you have Cord Phelps and Juan Diaz. In Akron, you have Ronny Rodriguez and Jose Ramirez. In Carolina, you have Francisco Lindor and Joey Wendle. In Lake County, you have Dorssys Paulino and Robel Garcia. You could make a case that all of them could play in the bigs at some point. There have to be moves here at some point, but perhaps the Indians don’t address this until Asdrubal Cabrera’s contract comes up at the end of next season, or when they ultimately deal him. Perhaps Lindor’s ascension to the big league club begins the shuffling.
Steve Orbanek: How does Columbus deal with its influx of starting pitchers? As of now, it appears as if the Clippers rotation consists of Trevor Bauer, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Corey Kluber, Fernando Nieve and Giovanni Soto. With David Huff being retained, where does he fit in? It would appear as if Nieve would move to the pen, but what if the Clippers decide to move Soto out of the rotation and develop the young left-hander as a reliever, which is where many expect him to ultimately end up. It should be interesting to see how this rotation issue works itself out early on.
Jim Piascik: The middle infield situation would have dominated this section, but moving Tony Wolters to catcher alleviates some of that. Another roster jam is going on in the outfield amongst Carolina and Lake County. Between Tyler Naquin, Jordan Smith, Bryson Myles for the Mudcats and Jorge Martinez, Luigi Rodriguez, Logan Vick, and LeVon Washington for the Captains, it does not look like there is enough room in the outfield. Time, injuries, and performance will solve the logjam, but out of the gate, the outfield depth in the lower minors is interesting to me.
Charlie Adams: The entire middle infield logjam is the most obvious, but I am really curious to see who ends up in the ML bullpen come year-end. There are so many options and middle-relievers can jump levels if the organization feels they are ready (see: Allen, Cody). Managing options, performance and development will be a big test for the crop of young arms and developmental team within the Tribe front office.
Jeff Ellis: I am hugely curious what they will do with the glut of bullpen arms, as the system on every level is loaded with arms. In AAA there is Lee, Hagadone, and Capps. AA has Armstrong. In the lower levels there is Sides, Haley, and Baker. Each of these guys off the top of my head look like back end arms. The team will lose Albers and Smith after this year, and I would not be shocked if either is traded before then because of all this depth in the system.
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: LeVon Washington is probably the guy on most lists, and I’d likely throw Bryson Myles and Tyler Naquin in the equation as well. My focus this year is on one Dillon Howard. Last year he came into camp out of shape and things went downhill from there. His velocity was down, and he became injury prone. When he finally got any sort of chance, he was downright terrible. Here’s the thing. There is unquestioned talent there. He has a two-seamer with sink and a four-seamer that hits 94 and rises. He has a changeup and a curve that has potential. There are questions about his overall presence and energy level. If he rebounds he could be a top of the rotation sort of guy, and 2013 will show us what kind of pitcher he ultimately will be.
Steve Orbanek: I am not going to say that I believe he is primed for a breakout, but I certainly hope outfielder Levon Washington is healthy and enjoys a solid 2013 campaign. Injuries have limited the toolsy outfielder to just a combined 92 minor league games in the past two seasons. We know he has all the skills, but he has to stay on the field to have an opportunity to showcase them.
Jim Piascik: It’s #WashTime for me. The amount of talent and ability Washington has is off-the-charts, but since he was drafted in the second round of the 2010 Draft, he just never has been healthy. It is entirely possible Washington will never find a way to stay healthy, but why think negatively like that? Washington spent the offseason working hard to take the system by storm in 2013; I can’t wait to watch.
Charlie Adams: Dillon Howard and LeVon Washington are the hopes; because they both have the best upsides. However, my best bet for a bounce back performance is Luigi Rodriguez. I think he significantly cuts his strikeouts down and starts to let his power and speed play up a little more thanks to better contact. I think he could be a real pleasant surprise.
Jeff Ellis: Can I choose Hector Rondon? Okay, kidding, sort of. Tyler Naquin is a player who has been unfairly bagged on from the moment he was drafted. He was 21 or 22 on my personal big board, so while being a slight reach it was still a solid pick. He got hurt and didn't really get to show his tools. He has the best arm in the minors, and was widely considered the best hitter in last year's draft. I think he is going to adjust and show these skills and by next spring with be in the discussion to be this team's starting right fielder.
Q: What do you think is the strength of the Indians' farm system and why?
Jim Pete: The two areas of strength remains the middle infield depth, which is likely the best in the big leagues, as well as their bullpen arms. Kipnis, Cabrera, Phelps, Diaz, Rodriguez, Ramirez, Lindor, and Paulino. That gives the Indians eight guys that will likely be performers at the big league level for someone going forward. There’s a lot of all-star and above-average talent there as well. The pen has a nice mix of big arms, deceptive deliveries and consistent guys. Shawn Armstrong leads the way, with Scott Barnes, Matt Langwell, Preston Guilmet, Bryce Stowell, Rob Bryson and Grant Sides providing depth. CC Lee and Tyler Sturdevant should return from the DL, and Giovanni Soto may find his way to the pen as well. There’s just a lot of potential there.
Steve Orbanek: This is a no-brainer: relief pitching. At every level, it seems as if the Indians have legitimate bullpen prospects. The system is so deep that quality players like the Clippers' Matt Langwell and Rob Bryson may not even have a chance to make the Major Leagues even though they seem to be more than capable middle relief options. Remember a few years back when the Indians struggled to produce young, promising relievers? This is definitely a good problem to have.
Jim Piascik: Even with Wolters moving off the position, the depth at shortstop in the system is staggering. Francisco Lindor is one of the best prospects in baseball and is ready for the major leagues now defensively. Dorssys Paulino can flat-out hit and is my Cleveland minor league system man-crush (Jason Kipnis is my major league one, of course). Ronny Rodriguez really intrigues me after he found a way to hit 19 home runs in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League last year. Jose Ramirez may still be able to pull off playing shortstop (and wherever he plays, he is going to hit and standout on defense). The system is strong up the middle and the shortstop position is leading the way.
Charlie Adams: Middle infield. There really isn’t another answer, as the Indians likely have the best middle infield farm system of any organization. They have depth, they have high-impact talent in a variety of forms and they have it from low-A to Double-AA (as well as two above-average regulars in the Majors). The Indians are going to have some very tough decisions in a year or two when all these players need Major League at bats.
Jeff Ellis: I already mentioned the bullpen but if there is one area that is deeper than the pen it's the middle infield. The team was so loaded up the middle they had to move Wolters to catcher and went extremely aggressive by starting Jose Ramirez in AA. The first hitter to be called up is more than likely going to be Cord Phelps, and the top two hitting prospects are both shortstops. It's an enviable position to be in; look at the Cardinals they have the best minors in baseball but no one who can handle shortstop. Having depth at hard to fill positions will only make the Indians more valuable trading partners down the line.
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: Can I say Jerrud Sabourin, even though he had a breakout season last year? What about Joe Wendle? Yeah…same thing. I’m going to go with Alex Lavisky here. He’s only 22, and for the first time in his career, Lavisky really started to look comfortable being a pro ball player. He really had a solid second-half to the season in 2012, and he has the type of intangibles that could make him a special player. He is a defensive-minded catcher who brings athleticism and moxie. He’s “workable,” which is probably why his career didn’t end after three seasons of hitting at the Mendoza-line. If he fixes his swing and continues improving his power, he goes from being a serviceable big league back-up to an impactful starter.
Steve Orbanek: Joseph Wendle. Love the way this kid plays. The Division II product made his debut at Single-A Mahoning Valley last season and posted a .327/.375/.469 line in 61 games and 267 plate appearances. He also showed good plate discipline as he drew 15 walks and struck out just 25 times. He is slated to start at second base for High-A Carolina, and I expect him to continue to impress.
Jim Piascik: I’m going with Urshela. I am a sucker for players who can flash some leather and Urshela has Gold Glove upside. His power seems to be poking through as he hit 14 home runs in Carolina last year. Plus, he’s headed to Double-A in his age-21 season. Urshela still needs to improve his plate discipline, but that can come with time. He will get a test in making the jump to Double-A this year and I will be interested to watch how he handles it. Plenty of recognizable top prospects will be making their way to Akron in 2013, but I cannot wait to see how Urshela does in the upcoming season.
Charlie Adams: I burned my Jose Ramirez card, but next on this list is Kieran Lovegrove. I expect him to start to showcase some of the upside that he is believed to have and really become the Indians next great hope for a front-line starter. He won’t win many games due to limited workload and some inconsistent outings, but his rate-stats should improve through the year and persist even at higher levels.
Jeff Ellis: I have been a big fan of Eric Haase for a while now. I think he has the potential to be a top 10 guy next year. This is a guy who was rated as having the top power and speed in the state of Michigan coming out of high school. He has a lot of things to work on notably his walk to strike out total, or just taking a walk in general. Yet if he continues to develop, his athleticism and power remind me a bit of Jason Kendall. This will be his first extended looked, and I for one can't wait to see what he can do.
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One guy I didn't see mentioned as much was Ronnie Rodriguez and I am a huge fan of his. I could see him playing 3B down the line and I could see him with 20 homers, 20 steals and 20 doubles easy.
Assuming Lindor moves to SS in 2015. What if Jose Ramirez and Ronnie Rodriguez are both ready as well? Do they move Kipnis to the outfield? DH? Or 1B? Who has the better glove long term?
I could see Ronnie taking over 3B and moving Chisenhall over to 1B. Chances are only one of them will be ready to make the jump with Lindor so do you think we see Kipnis or Chisenhall moved to 1B or LF?
One of the best things about all this middle infield depth is you can move MI players to the corners but can't really do the same with corner players to the middle.
Is there any particular player in this years draft that you really really want other then Clint Frazier? Because I think its pretty obvious he will be picked before the 5th spot.