Earlier this off-season I previewed the series of annual prospect overviews by pointing out that the Indians lists were likely to look quite bad:
I expect no one not drafted this season by the Indians to appear in prospect Top 100 lists. The past two years, of course, the Indians have graded out fairly well in the prospect world. Three factors contribute to the plummet you are likely to observe in the Indians standing.
1. Graduating top prospects to the majors
2. Trading top prospects
3. An underperforming crop of 2010 draftees
The Indians strengths lie in young talent at the major league level (i.e. Santana, Kipnis, Chisenhall), a reasonably well thought of 2011 draft class (particularly Francisco Lindor and Dillon Howard), the nascent potential of the under-performing, but also well though of, 2010 draft class (LeVon Washington, Tony Wolters...), and a wave of young talent just entering the system from Latin America (Elvis Araujo, Ronny Rodriguez...). Lesser acknowledged, but the Indians do have a rather large collection of potential major league worthy pitching arms (albeit not stars) in the upper minors. It is certainly possible these groups churn out an above-average number of major league players, some of them star-worthy. But we have very little in the way of actual performance at a professional level to evaluate most of them. Since I'm not a scout, and our prospect lists here have tended to be built out of performance, this poses a challenge. I would actually make an even stronger statement, and say that for most of the young guys in the system it would be nearly impossible to produce a reasonable projection for them outside of professionally scouting them yourself, something few outside the organization have probably done. So what follows is more of a 2012 viewers' guide to the system rather than a prospect rankings. I have evaluated players across the upper (AA-AA), lower (A-A+) and early (Rookie and below) levels of the system and put them into what I think are reasonable categorical tiers based on what we have to go on. The post that follows is long, but hopefully it will give you a little mid-winter warmth for your Indians fandom.
UPPER MINORS (AA - AAA)
None. We might produce some excellent relief pitchers out of this group, but I have a hard time identifying such players as "stars." The positional players are a wasteland of poor draft picks and slumped prospects.
Potential major league contributors
Scott Barnes - I think Barnes is the best of the bunch in the upper minors, despite a season ending knee injury in the second half of last season. Barnes is a lefty with occasional control problems, but who showed the upside last season of a mid-rotation starter.
Chen Lee - Lee is the most impressive of the Indians minor league relievers to have not yet debuted in Cleveland. Small-framed and possessing a deceptive delivery, Lee made big improvements to his strikeout rate a year ago while facing better competition. What I find interesting is that the Indians have habitually used Lee in multiple inning stretches, averaging seven batters faced per appearance, adding to his potential value as a relief pitcher.
Austin Adams - Adams is the wildcard of this group and arguably my most aggressive placement. Adams is a converted pitcher and only completed his second season as a starter in 2011. He pitched well, however, and throws as hard as anyone in the upper system. A more likely scenario is an eventual bullpen conversion, but the high-end scenario is still a mid-rotation pitcher with high K/high BB totals.
Matt Packer - Packer is sort of the opposite kind of prospect as Adams, precision and control rather than power. Packer had a stellar 2010 to get onto the prospect map, then struggled in the first half of 2011 for Akron. He turned it around in the second half, though, dominating in his final 13 starts of the season.
Bryce Stowell - Stowell might not deserve this spot, as he only pitched 38 innings last season and for some reason managed to not earn himself a late promotion to Columbus for the playoffs. But he throws extremely hard, triple-digit hard, and gets tons of Ks (he has K'ed 1/3 of the batters he has faced at AA and above). He also allows a lot of walks, has mechanical and health issues, and for some reason seems to occupy the organizational doghouse.
Nick Weglarz - Plate appearances from 2007-2011: 540, 454, 427, 372, 172
TJ McFarland - He's young, but he needs to show some peripherals at some point
Chun-Hsiu Chen - If he can't catch, he is just a below average bat for his position with declining plate skills in 2011
Rob Bryson - Needs to stay healthy long enough to move up the ladder. Stuff and results seem to be there.
Juan Diaz - Being on the roster at the age of 22 at a skill position almost by definition makes you worthy of fringe consideration. Needs to do something on the field to show why, though.
Kelvin De La Cruz - He is still a 6'5" lefty with intriguing stuff
Paolo Espino - Even Antonetti made the comparison of him and Tomlin this year...small frame guy with sneaky good numbers.
Tyler Sturdevant - 11 K/9 in his minor league career, and now at Columbus
Thomas Neal - Seems as reasonable a candidate as any to fill the Trevor Crowe-role on the roster
LOW MINORS (A - A+)
Potential major league contributors
Jesus Aguilar - Has undeniably gotten better as the year progressed, up through and including impressive performances in AFL and winter leagues. He's huge, though, and obviously limited to first base at best. Needs to show he can command the plate better and carry his power into 2012. Have to feel good about 2011, but I think the odds are still stacked heavily against him.
Giovanni Soto - Began 2011 in fine form before falling prey to injury mid-season. A healthy return would still give him major league rotation potential.
Cody Allen - The Indians drafted, and failed to sign Allen in 2010. So they drafted him again in 2011. Not young, but he did pitch across four levels in short time last year, making it all the way to Akron for one appearance. Of the 66 batters he faced in Lake County, he struck out 28 of them (42%).
LeVon Washington - This one is on pedigree and draft position alone, as Washington had a dreadful 2011 at the plate.
Carlos Moncrief - Consider this my guilty pleasure, or sleeper, pick (I almost bumped him to the list above). Moncrief is a converted pitcher who flashed speed (20 SB, 7 3B) and power (16 HR, 49 XBH) while playing RF and CF in just his second year as a position player. But his 158 Ks suggest he has a long way to go for his tools, which might be as good as anyone in the low minors of the system, to translate into progress and performance.
Ronny Rodriguez - 19-year old from the Dominican held his own in 2011 and could be a big riser in 2012.
Preston Guilmet - I would have put him in the above list if his strikeout rate, still good, hadn't dropped significantly from 2010>2011.
Alex Monsalve - Just 19, Monsalve showed flashes of hitting ability while seeing 72 games at catcher for the Captains in 2011.
Giovanny Urshela - Another teenager, Urshela is a gifted defensive 3B who faded offensively as the season went on.
Tyler Cannon - Has already seen time at six defensive positions, occasionally having success with his bat. Possible future utility guy.
Roberto Perez - He is a catcher rated very highly defensively and with pretty decent secondary skills. Always confused why he doesn't get more discussion and playing time.
Michael Goodnight - Big righty well thought of by many scouts. Needs to get better results.
Clayton Cook - I am not high on Cook, as his numbers have slowly gone down each year. But he has stayed healthy and advanced each year and is young enough to still to make a leap forward.
TJ House - Dreadful in 2011, needs a significant rebound in 2012
Kyle Blair - Something of a 2010 draft-bonus baby, Blair underwhelmed significantly in 2011. Good bounce-back candidate for 2012.
Mike Rayl - Kind of the low-minors version of Tomlin/Espino
Danny Salazar - see Juan Diaz, above