IPI Roundtable: Minor league thoughts for 2012
The minor league baseball season kicks off tomorrow night at 7:00 PM EST as Triple-A Columbus, Double-A Akron, and Low-A Lake County all spring into action, and then on Friday night High-A Carolina gets things started up.
With the 2012 season upon us, it means LOTS of coverage on the Cleveland Indians minor league system will be coming here on the IPI. I will post a separate article later tonight or tomorrow morning explaining all changes and additions to the coverage this season. Bottom line, there is nowhere else you need to go for your Indians minor league information.
Several site writers will be assisting in the coverage all season. I had a chance to sit down and talk to a few of them and get their thoughts on several questions pertaining to the Indians’ farm system. With myself as the moderator, their thoughts are listed below:
Q: What affiliate are you most excited to follow in the early going?
Charlie Adams: “Early going” pretty much forces me to pick Lake County due to the large number of exciting prospects slated to begin the season there. However, I am going to be most curious to see Columbus in the early going because there will be a number of Major League options starting out there. Lonnie Chisenhall will try to breakthrough for good and Beau Mills will try to carry the momentum over from a solid 2011 campaign. Relief prospects CC Lee and Tyler Sturdevant should also see time and help the big league club. Prospects close the big league club will prove crucial down the stretch should the Indians hope to remain in contention.
Kevin Dean: Lake County. The most accessible to me and the most talented, and the talent is all over the field. Felix Sterling, Elvis Araujo and Kyle Blair on the hill, Alex Lavisky receiving, Francisco Lindor and Jordan Smith on the left side of the infield and Bryson Myles, LeVon Washington and Luigi Rodriguez patrolling the outfield. It should be the gem of a weakly-perceived system, and an option that baseball fans in Northeast Ohio should consider seeing very often this season.
Jeff Ellis: I for one am the most excited for Lake County. Not only will last year's top draft picks be there (Lindor, Myles, Smith, and in time Howard and Sisco) but so are a lot of players whose upside is high and need to prove something, players like Elvis Araujo and LeVon Washington. Plus there is also a good share of interesting Latin talent in Felix Sterling, Robel Garcia, and Luigi Rodriquez I don't see any other team that has as many potential players who could end up being blue chip prospects.
Lianna Holub: I am really looking forward to seeing the Carolina Mudcats play. Tony Wolters and Ronny Rodriguez are going to be formidable up the middle of the diamond both hitting and defensively. Also, I believe that 2011 draft picks Jake Lowery and Cody Allen are going to shine. This is a team to get excited about!
Andy Nichols: Most of the Indians' top prospects are in the lower levels of the minors, so that's where a lot of the excitement is going to be. Lake County is going to be a fun group to watch. There, fans will get a good look at top prospect Francisco Lindor, as well as other high level prospects like LeVon Washington, Luigi Rodriguez, and many others.
Jim Pete: How good is Lake County starting off the 2012 year? They have our #1 overall prospect in Fracisco Lindor, as well as our #1 outfield prospect in LeVon Washington. Both are young, and projects, but offer up an explosive array of ability that should really show itself at Lake County this year. The outfield will be Washington, #7 prospect Luigi Rodriguez, and #15 prospect Bryson Myles. Elvis Araujo and Felix Sterling are top 20 prospects in the rotation who may end up in the top 5-10 if they continue their progression. Add Jake Sisco and Dillon Howard to that mix later on this season, and this will be the best rotation on paper in the entire system, including Cleveland. Add to that a young Alex Lavisky and Alex Monsalve at the catcher position, and you easily have the best team in the system.
Jim Piascik: To me, it's got to be Lake County. The level of talent on that roster is absolutely insane. Coming from the perspective of covering the Aeros this year, I am very jealous of the people who get to watch the Captains this year. I would kill to get to watch a player like Francisco Lindor every night. It will certainly be interesting to see how all of the talent in Lake County does in the early going this year.
Andrew Zajac: Columbus. There's a lot of major league talent on the roster with a few former top prospects, as well as some current top prospects. With a loaded roster, all eyes are on Mike Sarbaugh to see how he manages them.
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.
Charlie Adams: Jesus Aguilar reaching Double-A will be his first test at the upper-levels. His power is evident, but the ability for it to ever reach the Major League level is in question. If he can handle advanced pitching and still hit for power, he will take the leap and turn into a legitimate top prospect.
Kevin Dean: Jesus Aguilar. He got a small taste of high-A at the end of last season, but I would like to see how he handles a longer stint now that he'll begin there from day one. There are concerns about him handling more advanced pitching and his projectability to stay at first base, so the test begins now.
Jeff Ellis: I am intrigued to see Robel Garcia debut this year in Lake County. He made a lot of National lists, mostly because he was a former high priced talent, and it can be easier to just rank a guy based on signing bonus then skill. That said, the Indians thought very highly of him, and frankly I don't know much about him so I am intrigued to see what he does. He could be another middle infielder with a very high ceiling for the Tribe.
Lianna Holub: I would like to say Francisco Lindor, but I got a brief glimpse of him at Mahoning Valley last year. What I really want to see is how well Dillon Howard and Jake Sisco perform in their first full professional seasons. Both are highly-touted pitchers and are projected to be options for the big league club in a few years. How well will they adjust to being a professional opposed to an amateur? This season will be their first test.
Andy Nichols: I'm interested in the debut of 2011 second-round pick, Dillon Howard, wherever he starts out. After trading top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White last summer, the Indians are thin in the premier starting pitching prospect department. Howard may have the most potential out of any of the minor league starters.
Jim Pete: Anyone who isn't excited about Francisco Lindor needs to really start paying attention. There's been a lot of scuttlebutt over the past month about how good this kid really is, with talk that he could end up the best prospect in a loaded 2011 draft. That's high praise for a kid who is only 18 years old. But the one guy who is finally starting to rake again is Beau Mills. I think this is a guy that the Indians had given up on, and while he still isn't a guy that the Indians are necessarily counting on in their future plans, this year could change all of that. It should be interesting watching Mills, especially with Matt LaPorta and Russ Canzler starting the year off in Columbus. The competition should do him good, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him pass LaPorta on the depth chart at first base and/or DH-in-waiting for when Travis Hafner gets hurt.
Jim Piascik: Well, the Indians ruined all of the debuts I was looking forward to this year (Hagadone and C.C. Lee at Cleveland, Jesus Aguilar at Akron), so I guess I'll go with Lindor at Lake County. He is one of the only future stars in the system right now. If he has a huge first couple of months, it will go a long way toward helping the overall health of the Tribe's minor league system. They have plenty of serviceable minor league guys, but not much top-end talent. In Lindor, the Indians have a potential star.
Andrew Zajac: Specifically, I'm eager to see how Lonnie Chisenhall develops in Columbus and how quickly he can return to Cleveland. He still needs to work out aspects of both offense and defense, and it wasn't long ago that he was one of the top prospects in our system. He's still extremely young and will be a key piece for the Indians going forward, so I'm excited and anxious to see how he fits into the puzzle in Columbus and Cleveland going forward.
Q: Are there any specific roster issues you are looking forward to see work their way out over the course of the season?
Charlie Adams: I am looking forward to seeing how much turnover the bullpen has by the end of the season. Veteran relievers could/should be dealt as prospects get ready and middle-relievers like Hagadone prove their ability to handle high leverage situations.
Kevin Dean: Columbus as a whole is crowded. A handful of players I thought would open there will begin in Akron, partly because there were a number of non-roster invites in camp with the Indians that didn't make the Opening Day roster and were sent down.
Jeff Ellis: As anyone who has read anything I have written of late, I am intrigued to see what is going to happen with the Indians and all their pen options. They have such depth, that I honestly feel they could almost make an entire major league bullpen just out of guys in their minors. Hagadone, Lee, and Sturdevant should all be ready this year and players like Bryson and Stowell could still breakthrough. It might seem like a small area but the depth could end up being a trade asset for a team going forward.
Lianna Holub: I hope the issues of players playing a level below where they should be levels itself out. When I saw the initial rosters, my jaw dropped. I was shocked to see Tyler Holt with Carolina and Tim Fedroff down with Akron. Hopefully, both players take this opportunity to showcase themselves and show that the wrong decision was made. Everything will work itself out.
Andy Nichols: I'm interested to see how playing time at first base is split between Matt LaPorta and Russ Canzler in Columbus. LaPorta's running out of time to prove himself, and the strong impression Canzler left on Manny Acta this spring may have propelled him past LaPorta on the pecking order. This season will be a form of tryout for the job opening at first base next season, when Casey Kotchman's contract is up.
Jim Pete: I don't know if anything will be worked out this season, but the lower level middle infield logjam is certainly one to watch. Just looking at Lake County and Carolina, you have four must-watch players. In Lake County, you have Lindor at short, of course, but another potential breakout type of player in Robel Garcia at second base. In Carolina, you have Ronny Rodriguez at short, and Tony Wolters at second. As if those four guys weren't enough, throw in Dorssys Paulino into the mix, and you have potentially five top twenty prospects all up the middle at virtually the same level. Yeah, none of these guys are over 20 years old either. Clearly all these prospects aren't going to be playing the same two positions on their rise through the system, so it should be interesting to watch what happens as the season progresses.
Jim Piascik: The lack of position players at Akron is strange to me. There is not much going on there at all. I'd assume as time goes on we'll see callups fill some of those gaps, but it's pretty barren for now. Also, it intrigues me that the Aeros do not have any left-handed relievers. I'm sure it's just some roster quirk and will end up changing soon enough, but it isn't very often that you see a bullpen without at least one lefty in it.
Andrew Zajac: This could go without saying, but the abundance of talent in the middle of the infield between Carolina and Lake County. Ronny Rodriguez and Tony Wolters are starting at Carolina, while Francisco Lindor starts in Lake County. One other roster issue I'm particularly interested in is the catching job in Lake County between Alex Monsalve and Alex Lavisky. They're two young catching prospects that both have high upside going forward.
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?
Charlie Adams: LeVon Washington. I think he had no idea how to handle being a professional baseball player and he will start to do the things that are needed to be prepared to play every day. His physical tools are among the best in the system and he has plenty of time to turn them into highly-productive skills. This is also a great hope of the organization because he is a high-pick at a position of need for the big league club in 2-3 years.
Kevin Dean: LeVon Washington. Many were quick to write him off due to a disappointing first full professional season, but the talent is undeniable. "Potential," as we know, can be a double-edged sword, but that is one dude I would never bet against. He had a nice spring, and I fully expect a major step forward.
Jeff Ellis: I like everyone else is looking at LeVon Washington for the rebound candidate. He really does have the best pure hit tool in the entire minors. There is a reason that Tampa took him in round one and the Indians in round 2, and it is not thanks to his fantastic Twitter account. He could very easily be Kenny Lofton without the defense. He has that kind of bat and speed, and could be an impact player down the road.
Lianna Holub: LeVon Washington, I believe, needs to have a comeback season. I know he is young and fought through injuries last season. I was critical of him in my season review, so hopefully it was the injuries that were holding him back.
Andy Nichols: The obvious pick here would be LeVon Washington, but I'm going to go a different route. I think Alex Lavisky is going to show why the Indians gave the catcher seven figures to sign in 2010 after being drafted in the 8th round. Last year, Lavisky hit a combined .203 with 137 strikeouts and only 29 walks. But he has good power (13 homeruns in 2011) and can handle a pitching staff. It may be wishful thinking, but I believe Lavisky will have a big time bounce back year.
Jim Pete: There are three on my radar, and all for different reasons. Nick Weglarz, Scotty Barnes and Giovanni Soto. Weglarz probably fits this category the best, and it's a risk since they may DFA him in the next couple of days. Injuries have completely derailed him, but like Beau Mills before him, a big 2012 could see him knocking on the door to the Indians sooner, rather than later. There's nothing to suggest that his plate discipline hasn't eroded, but he has to find that power. Barnes, if he stays healthy, could be a starter in the Indians' rotation by August, if not sooner. He's that good...and if he's healthy...I think he'll prove to be the most major league ready pitcher in the system in 2012. A bit of a sleeper is Soto. He's incredibly mature for his age (20), and the Indians moved him to Akron this year after an injury sidelined him in July of last year. He could have a big time season, and find himself in Columbus before long. It's clear that Soto is on the Tribe's radar in the future.
Jim Piascik: Nick Weglarz and Jason Knapp. Oh please let it be Nick Weglarz and Jason Knapp. If Weglarz can find a way to stay healthy, he will add some much needed power to the Tribe's minor league system. The Indians do not have much power in the minors right now - especially in the upper levels. They need Weglarz to be healthy this year. Similarly, the Indians have a lack of top-of-the-rotation arms in the system right now. I love having plenty of depth options (Huff, McAllister, Slowey, Gomez, Barnes, McFarland, Packer, etc.), but eventually, you need to develop someone who can be at the front of the rotation. Knapp is still fairly young and still has that sort of upside if he can stay healthy.
Andrew Zajac: After suffering a knee injury last July, Scott Barnes was shut down for the rest of the season. He had a great spring and is near major league ready. Now that he's healthy, he's primed for a huge year and could eventually turn into a quality #3 starter at the major league level.
Q: What do you think is the strength of the Indians' farm system and why?
Charlie Adams: Lower-level middle infield prospects are the best-known, but low-level starting pitching prospects with high upside are also plentiful. Elvis Araujo, Felix Sterling, Dillon Howard and Austin Adams all have potential to explode and become front-line rotation candidates. Adams gets the most recognition because he is furthest along and will be at Double-A, but any one of these guys could turn the corner to become a big-time prospect.
Kevin Dean: The middle of the infield, for its quality and quantity. A Lindor and Tony Wolters keystone should be such a treat for Indians fans going forward. Ronny Rodriguez is right there, too, and Cord Phelps is still very much a part of the future, even if only as a utility infielder at the next level. Jorge Martinez is a lesser known name that just turned 19.
Jeff Ellis: The Indians strength is kind of divided. In the upper levels that strength is relief arms, but in the lower levels it is middle infielders. Overall I think it's the middle infielders that span the most levels, so it is the overriding strength. If you look at the top ten it is dominated by players who play up the middle. The biggest names in the system are middle infielders, and the depth of the position thus far seems to have no end as even more young players who are legit prospects are debuting there this spring.
Lianna Holub: I think the strength of the system has to be the talent in the lowers levels. Players like Francisco Lindor, Tony Wolters, and Dillon Howard have tons of upside and will help rise the farm system from the dead (if that makes sense). In a few years I can see the farm system being a Top 10 system again with the likes of those names rounding out the list of top prospects.
Andy Nichols: Right now, the strength is definitely the middle infield, specifically in the lower levels of the minors. The Indians are loaded with middle infield prospects. Lindor tops the list, but Wolters, Ronny Rodriguez, Dorssys Paulino, and Robel Garcia should not be overlooked.
Jim Pete: It the upper level, the strength of the team is clearly the bullpen at this point. While there are a few starters to keep an eye on (Barnes, McAllister, Soto, Packer, Adams), most of those names aren't really much more than #3 starter candidates. In the lower minors, the biggest strength are something that I have already mentioned: the middle infielders and the starting pitching. Really, you could make a case that the low minors are loaded, period, starting a bit in Carolina, but really showcasing itself in Lake County and in Arizona. The Indians have done an incredible job drafting in the last two years, and now boast players like Lindor, Washington, Howard, Wolters, Luigi Rodriguez, Ronny Rodriguez, Araujo, Sterling, Aguilar, Myles, Sisco, Cook, Holt, Lowery and Paulino all residing in Carolina or lower. That's not even all the prospects worth mentioning, as there are guys like Knapp healing, and others tuning up in extended. In two years, this system will be loaded for bear from the top-to-the-bottom with another well thought out draft.
Jim Piascik: I think that the Indians have somehow found a way to be deep at shortstop with Lindor, Wolters, and Ronny Rodriguez, all IPI top 10 prospects. That depth at a key position bodes very well for the Tribe down the road. Even if one of them moves to another position (it seems likely as of right now that Wolters will end up at second base), the Indians are still pretty set up the middle in the lower levels. Combine that with decent guys like Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Jason Donald, Cord Phelps, and Juan Diaz in the upper levels, and I see a major strength up the middle for the Indians.
Andrew Zajac: Young, raw talent. Currently, most of the top prospects in the organization are at our lower levels, who have high upside, but are still fairly raw. The list can go on and on: Francisco Lindor, LeVon Washington, Tony Wolters, Bryson Myles, Ronny Rodriguez, Jesus Aguilar, Felix Sterling, Elvis Araujo, etc. Mostly all unproven, all very young, but the sky is the limit for these kids.
Q: Is there a player maybe not highly rated or overlooked who you think may be in line for a breakout season, and why?
Charlie Adams: Giovanni Soto, coming in at #39 on the IPI prospect rankings, could be a solid back of the rotation starter. His strikeout rates have steadily improved and he is only 20 with a chance to improve both velocity and his off-speed offerings. I’ll be excited to see if he can stay around the 9.0 K/9 rates as he moves up to Double-A this year.
Kevin Dean: Ezequiel Carrera. He probably is what he is at this point, but I think his tools are overlooked in the sense that he does a lot well that others in Columbus and Cleveland do not. His speed, defense and bunting ability provide a different element to either team, and I thought he should have been more strongly considered as the Indians' fourth outfielder.
Jeff Ellis: I have mentioned Cody Allen a lot over the past few years. If you go on the site you can go back to when we first drafted him two years ago and see how much I thought of him. He has a legit three pitch mix, looked good in spring training and at worst will be a 6/7 inning guy for the Tribe down the road.
Lianna Holub: I could see a guy like Jordan Smith having a breakout year and moving up in the prospect rankings. He was an All-Star with Mahoning Valley and all he does is hit. If he continues to hit, he could be a top 15 guy by the end of the season.
Andy Nichols: Bryson Myles is not necessarily overlooked, but maybe overshadowed by fellow centerfield prospect LeVon Washington. When the Indians selected Myles in the 6th round in 2011, I thought it could end up going down as one of the steals of the draft. Myles has a great combination of size (not his 5'11” height, but his 225 pound frame), speed, and power, as well as the ability to put the ball in play consistently and hit for a high average. There may not be another player in the Indians system that I'm more excited to see develop.
Jim Pete: I really hope this turns out to be Adam Abraham in Akron. I covered him a lot in Kinston last year, and he just deserves it. This isn't a guy that's ever going to find himself in the top 20 prospects of a system, but he is a guy that could find himself on a major league roster. Why? He is an incredible worker, a good clubhouse guy, and when he puts it all together, has weeks of utter offensive brilliance. There were clearly defined moments last season when he literally carried the team on his shoulders. Now that he's in Akron and playing first base (instead of third, which he can play), I could see a breakout kind of year. No, nothing that makes us think he'll be the Indians first baseman of the future, but one that makes us think he COULD be with a big year in Akron.
Jim Piascik: I think most players are pretty fairly rated here, but I think that Thomas Neal could have some real upside. It was not all that long ago that he was a top prospect and he could recapture some of that in 2012. He's a right-handed hitter that has shown some power and plays the outfield - three of the big league club's biggest needs. If he can get it back together (he's been hurt recently, which may have been the root of his problems), he could establish himself as a legitimate Major Leaguer this year. Seems like a good breakout candidate to me.
Andrew Zajac: Bryson Myles. He has a great combination of speed and power. He's a physical freak who can swipe a base, hit the ball out of the yard, and drive in runs. He has an incredible work ethic and outstanding makeup.
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
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.