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Orbiting Cleveland: Analyzing 2014 Indians top prospect lists

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francisco-lindor-2013-bwOn Wednesday, Baseball America released its long-awaited 2014 Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects list.

The list is always interesting to see simply because of Baseball America’s reputation as being the standard in the industry when it comes to prospect rankings. The rankings are, however, subjective to the opinions of Baseball America’s writers, and debate is inevitable once they’re released.

That has already been the case this season as there were some surprises and some notable omissions. Without further ado, take a look at Baseball America’s listing for yourself:

  1. Francisco Lindor, SS
  2. Clint Frazier, OF
  3. Trevor Bauer, RHP
  4. Tyler Naquin, OF
  5. Cody Anderson, RHP
  6. Dorssys Paulino, SS
  7. Ronny Rodriguez SS/2B
  8. C.C. Lee, RHP
  9. Jose Ramirez 2B/SS
  10. Austin Adams, RHP

The list was remarkably similar to the top 10 list released in November by Baseball Prospectus, which is also universally renowned as being one of the top evaluators when it comes to baseball farm systems. Here’s the listing from Baseball Prospectus:

  1. Francisco Lindor, SS
  2. Clint Frazier, OF
  3. Tyler Naquin, OF
  4. Cody Anderson, RHP
  5. Francisco Mejia, C
  6. Jose Ramirez, 2B/SS
  7. Ronny Rodriguez, SS/2B
  8. Dorssys Paulino, SS
  9. Joe Wendle, 2B
  10. Dace Kime, RHP

So, when looking at these lists, what conclusions can be drawn? I tend to agree more with Baseball Prospectus’ list, but both lists present some very intersting talking points. They’re top 10 prospects lists, so how about we offer 10 conclusions? Here they are:

1. Francisco Lindor is expected to be a superstar. Should this really come as any surprise? This now marks Lindor’s third straight season as the No. 1 overall prospect in the system, and that distinction comes for good reason. Lindor was outstanding this past season at High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron as he compiled a .303/.380/.407 line in 104 games between the two affiliates. Of course, the other thing that makes Lindor so special is his defense. He grades out as a plus-plus defender, and there is a lot of value in that, especially since current shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera posted a UZR of -12.8 and UZR/150 of -16.8 in 2013. Both those marks ranked last in the Majors among qualified shortstops. So, it appears as if Lindor’s time cannot come soon enough.

2. Clint Frazier’s ranking is both a good and bad thing. Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus have Frazier ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the system, which should say something about his potential. Frazier was solid in his debut as he compiled a .297/.362/.506 line with 11 doubles, 5 triples and 5 home runs in 44 games with the AZL Indians. There were still some obvious flaws though as his plate discipline clearly needs work considering he drew just 17 walks but struck out 61 times. In all honesty, it’s probably not a good thing that Frazier is ranked so high on this list. Yes, it is intriguing to see that there is such a high opinion about a 19-year-old outfielder, but it also says something about the current state of the system. Frazier has only played 44 games at the professional level, yet he’s already the No. 2 prospect in the system? In recent years, we have heard about how the system is lacking in impact talent, and this designation is further proof of that.

3. Trevor Bauer has endured a colossal fall. Bauer was still the No. 3 prospect on Baseball America’s list, but he was a notable omission from Baseball Prospectus. We all know that Bauer had a rough 2013 season, but did anyone ever believe that one of the game’s most reputable sources would remove him from its prospect rankings? In all honesty, it’s hard to blame Baseball Prospectus here. If anything, it could be argued that Baseball America should have him ranked lower. Bauer was just awful in Cleveland this past season as he posted a 5.29 ERA in four starts. What’s even worse is the fact that he was not really all that effective at Triple-A Columbus either. In 22 starts with the Clippers, Bauer posted a 4.15 ERA, but that’s hardly the worst of it. His K/9 rate was also just 7.9, which is down from the K/9 rate of 10.6 that he posted in 2012 while still in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system. To top things off, Bauer also walked 5.4 batters per nine innings, which is not even close to manageable. He also lost more than a couple ticks off his fastball. It’s safe to assume that Baseball Prospectus probably considers Bauer to be a lost cause at this point since he was omitted from their list. That might seem to be too much of a stretch, since he is still only 22-years-old, but it’s hard to fault the editors for making such a decision. Bauer is certainly down on his luck, and it’s going to take one heckuva season for him to rebound and recapture his lost prospect shine. Let’s hope that he’s capable of doing that in 2014.

4. Where is Jesus Aguilar? We all know that RBI is an overrated statistic when it comes to evaluating baseball talent, but doesn’t it seem a tad odd that Aguilar could not find his way into the top ten list for either Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus? The big first baseman had an outstanding season for Akron in 2013 as he posted a .275/.349/.427 line with 16 home runs en route to a brand new Akron RBI record with 105. Sure, it be argued that Aguilar’s ability to drive in so many runs was based on varying factors that were out of his control, but it’s still impressive any time that a player is able to set something as prestigious as an RBI record. Aguilar’s omission from the list also makes you wonder if the folks at these national publications have been following winter league baseball at all. As most of us know, Aguilar has had a torrid winter and currently owns a .329/.407/.607 line with 19 home runs and 54 RBI. He’s also shown improvement in regard to plate discipline as he’s drawn 27 walks and struck out 45 times. Even with the holes in his game, it appears as if Aguilar has a legitimate chance at making the Indians’ roster sometime next year. One would think that that alone would merit a spot on the team’s top prospect list.

5. The Indians’ real “top prospect” is absent. The man I refer to is the electrifying right-hander Danny Salazar. Unfortunately, Salazar pitched 52 innings last season to lose his prospect status (pitchers lose their rookie status after pitching 50 innings in the big leagues). Yet, given his limited body of work, he is still basically a prospect, and I would argue that he’s the top overall prospect in system. Pundits might find fault with such a statement, especially since Salazar never made it onto Baseball America’s or Baseball Prospectus’ top 100 prospect lists, but the reality is that Salazar is the most exciting pitching prospect that the Indians have had in years. If he were eligible, he also should be ranked above Lindor as an overall prospect simply because he’s already had Major League success. While Lindor seems to be a sure thing, there is still always a chance that he could flame out; albeit a small chance but a chance nonetheless. However, even if he fails from here on out, Salazar will always be remembered for his contributions in August and September 2013 that helped push the Indians to the postseason. This is really just the beginning for Salazar, who has to be considered one of the Major’s top breakout candidates for 2014.

6. Francisco Mejia could be special. Mejia is not included in Baseball America’s rankings, but he earned the No. 5 spot on Baseball Prospectus’. Mejia made his professional debut at 17 years old this past season with the AZL Indians, and he posted a solid .305/.348/.524 line in 30 games. As is the case with most young Dominican Republic players, Mejia is extremely raw, but the potential is certainly there. It’s nice to see Mejia get some early recognition, and he will certainly be one of the more exciting prospects to watch in the years to come. In the past, the IBI’s Tony Lastoria has compared Mejia to a young Carlos Santana, so that is just more reason to be excited about his potential.

7. Cody Anderson should be taken seriously as a legitimate Major League pitching option. Anderson earned Baseball Prospectus’ No. 4 mark, and he settled for No. 5 in Baseball America. Anderson is really the only power starting pitching option in the Indians’ system that is even close to the Major Leagues. The six-foot, four-inch right-hander made 23 starts at High-A Carolina this past season where he posted a 2.34 ERA with a 2.89 FIP. He made three starts at Double-A Akron to close out the season, but it appeared as if his arm was tiring by that point. Nonetheless, Anderson should get the opportunity to start the season back at Akron this year, and it will be interesting to see what kind of results he gets. Depending on your opinion of Bauer, some would argue that Anderson might now technically be the top starting pitching prospect in the system. In fact, Baseball Prospectus has gone as far to already give him that label. Most profile Anderson to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but he could amount to even more.

8. Tyler Naquin’s ranking is somewhat puzzling. Naquin ranked among the Indians’ top four prospects in both publications, and it’s really hard to understand exactly why. Naquin had a solid year at Carolina and Akron (.269/.334/.405 in 126 combined games), but does he really warrant such a high ranking, especially when some seem to think he will not be anything more than a fourth outfielder in the Major Leagues? You have to wonder if Naquin’s positioning on the lists has to do more with the fact that he was a first round pick and less with his overall body of work. All of us would like to see Naquin succeed, and it would be great to see him one day man center field for the Indians. However, it just seems to be somewhat of a stretch to say that he’s the No. 3 overall prospect in the entire system right now. If that’s the case, then what does that say about our system?

9. Starting pitching remains a huge problem. Overall, both lists include just two starting pitchers each. Anderson was represented on both lists while Bauer earned a spot on Baseball America’s, and Dace Kime was on Baseball Prospectus’.Unfortunately, this seems to just be a woe that the Indians cannot overcome. They have focused on taking high-upside starting pitchers during the last couple of years (Dillon Howard, Mitch Brown, Kieran Lovegrove), but none of these arms have really shown anything to be excited about. Of course, it’s always a risky venture when a team drafts young high school arms, but how is it that none of these arms have really shown any promise at all? This is a time when Indians fans really need to take a step back and thank their lucky stars for the ascension of Salazar. Every team is always looking for a young, controllable ace, and it appears as if Salazar could be just that guy. That’s a good thing too because the system is so barren in regard to starting pitching that it would be anyone’s guess as to when another Salazar-like prospect might surface. It’s been said before and will be said again, but the Indians need to do a better job of drafting and developing starting pitchers.

10. The Indians’ biggest sleeper is being overlooked. The player I refer to is middle infielder, Joe Wendle. As you may or may not know, my IBI and CSI colleagues, Jim Pete and Michael Hattery, have simply fallen in love with Wendle and everything that he brings to the table. Major publications often disregard Wendle, and a lot of that could be attributed to the fact that he went to a Division II school in West Chester University. Nonetheless, Wendle has done nothing but hit since he joined the system and this past season he compiled a .295/.372/.513 in 107 games with Carolina. The high OPS can be attributed to a power surge as Wendle hit 16 home runs despite the fact that power was never his calling card. To be fair, Wendle was recognized by Baseball Prospectus as the No. 9 prospect, but was left off of Baseball America’s list. There are a handful of potential Indians’ breakout prospects for 2014, and Wendle might be the most likely candidate. When it’s all said and done, Wendle will be one of those guys that the national publications were just wrong about. No worries though. It’s not as if it would be the first time… *cough* Danny Salazar *cough*…

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3 thoughts on “Orbiting Cleveland: Analyzing 2014 Indians top prospect lists

  1. Hey there, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your website in Chrome, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.

    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, great blog!

  2. Is Clint Frazier really as good as they say he is? I hear a lot of good things, and the numbers seem really good. Am I the only one concerned with the fact that he struc out 61 times in 44 games? I know he’s only 19, but that seems like a lot?

  3. Do you think Joe Wendle is better than Tyler Naquin? Do you think that Trevor Bauer is better, or worse than Cody Anderson? I don’t buy the Aguilar buzz.

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