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Cleveland Indians Minor League Update April 20-26: Prospects That Matter - April 2013

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For this week's minor-league update, I'm revisiting our old system of prospect ratings.

Danny Salazar
Danny Salazar
Jake Roth - USA Today

In previous installments of these minor league updates, several of you either directly or indirectly asked which of the myriad of names included in these reports were really worth following. In other words, where was the latest Prospects That Matter?

There's roughly 85-95 players at any one time on full-season rosters, and only perhaps 10% of those players end up having major-league careers of any consequence. Look around at the prospects sites and read prospects guides and you'll see up to 30 or even more players per organization profiled as major-league prospects. Well, as mentioned above, only a very small portion of minor-league players end up having a major-league career, so unless you're a die-hard prospect hound, following that many players isn't worth your time.

That's where Prospects That Matter come in. This concept was Jay's brainchild in 2008; he got tired of putting time and effort into following marginal players that would make it to AA or AAA but no higher, or having just a small cup of coffee in the majors. What he was trying to distill from those big lists of "prospects" was a list of players with a legitimate chance of becoming a major-league player. The rest the casual minor-league follower could ignore for now, or ignore forever; I'm sure there will be players that won't meet these criteria that eventually blossom into major-league players, but those should be the odd exceptions, not the rules.

So what were the criteria that Jay set down?

  • In Triple-A: succeeding at age 25, solid at 24, or younger.
  • In Double-A: succeeding at age 23, solid at 22, or younger.
  • In High-A: succeeding at age 21, solid at 20, or younger.
  • In Low-A: succeeding at age 19, solid at 18, or younger.
  • In short-season leagues: solid at age 17 or younger.

In other words, it's a combination of age and results. In some cases there might not be one player in a level that meets these criteria, but you know what? Maybe no one from Lake County (to take an example) will ever become a regular major-leaguer. One only has to look at the Indians' recent (as in since the late 90s) track record to know that not many minor-leaguers have developed into major-league players.With minor-league players we tend to wishcast quite a bit, seeing only the upside without the flaws, and this system helps to curb our enthusiasm down to a more rational level.

Because normally this list should be done either after the minor-league season or until well into the minor-league season (so that the statistics have a large enough sample), I'm going to cheat a little to do this now. I'm going to ignore this year's stats (which are very SSS) but count the level the player is currently in.

Jay further divided the PTM (and non-PTM) into smaller groups:

  • Prospects That Really, Really Matter - players who've met PTM criteria at an excessively young age.
  • Prospects That Really Matter - those who beat the PTM criteria with room to spare.
  • Prospects That Matter - others who've cleared the bar.
  • Too Accomplished to be Prospects - graduates to the majors who are still of "prospect age"
  • Too Old to Matter - players who are still in the minor-league system but are too old to make the PTM list.
  • Prospects That Might Matter at Some Point - notable players who still have age on their side; could make future PTM lists.

So I'm going to take a stab at sorting the current crop of Indians prospects into these categories. Again, I'm using stats up to 2012 along with 2013 assignments. Ages listed are the player's "baseball ages" for 2013. This is why a guy like Yan Gomes is rated in the PTRM category; he's being judged on what he did as a 24-year-old.

Prospects That Really, Really Matter

  • RHSP Trevor Bauer (Age 22, AAA/MLB) - the only prospect in the organization who meets the very strict guidelines for inclusion here, Bauer dominated AA and AAA as a 21-year-old, and pitched in the majors to boot. Even if he spends the rest of 2013 in AAA (doubtful), he'll remain at least in one of the two highest PTM categories.

Prospects That Really Matter (in no particular order)

  • SS Francisco Lindor (Age 19, A+) - I really, really wanted to place Lindor in the top category, but he hasn't had that breakout offensive season yet, so he'll stay here for now. One of the best defensive players in the minors, he could probably play shortstop at the major-league level now. Should his offensive game catch up with the defense in Carolina, he'll make the jump to the top category at the end of the season.
  • SS Dorssys Paulino (Age 18, A-) - Like with Lindor, I agonized over whether to place Paulino in the top category, but he's not quite young enough to rank any higher; the standards understandably set the bar high for players in lower levels. Should he move to Carolina at some point this season and play well, he'll jump to the next level this season.
  • RHRP Cody Allen (Age 24, MLB) - has dominated at every level, and is in the majors, perhaps to stay.
  • SS Ronny Rodriguez (Age 21, AA) - He's in Akron because the of the two shortstops behind him in the organization. Listed here because of his age, he'll need to hit to avoid being sent down to the lower PTM ranking.
  • C/IF Yan Gomes (Age 25 AAA/MLB) - played very well in the PCL last season and has made a good impression in the majors so far this year. He's going back to AAA soon, and could eventually be a quality starting catcher in the majors.
  • 3B Giovanny Urshela (Age 21, AA) - Excellent defender, and he's been promoted quickly because of it. His offense has yet to catch up with his glove, though.
  • LHRP Scott Barnes (Age 25, AAA) - Converted to a reliever now, and starting his third season in Columbus, but I still like his future. If he cuts down his walks a bit he very easily could be a good setup man in the majors.
  • 2B Jose Ramirez (Age 20, AA) - Has been aggressively promoted to Akron because of all the middle infield depth in the system. Has been knocked because of his size (and the low power projection that goes with it), but is a good defender and has a very good eye at the plate.
  • RHRP Shawn Armstrong (Age 22, AA) - Doesn't quite have the stuff Cody Allen has, but should move through the system similarly. A college starter who was converted to relief, he could help the Indians next year if he cleans up his control.

Prospects That Matter (in no particular order)

  • RHSP Mitch Brown (Age 19, A-) - Had a successful short-season debut, so I'm placing him here. Brown is several years away from contributing at the major-league level, but I think he's the most likely pitcher currently in the system (once you get past Bauer) to become a good starting pitcher.
  • RHSP Danny Salazar (Age 23, AA) - After Bauer, Salazar is the next high-level pitching prospect in the organization. He now has a mid-90s fastball, but he needs to prove that his breaking pitches are good enough to get outs, as well as put together a full season.
  • CF Luigi Rodriguez (Age 19, A-) - He's repeating Low-A again, which hurts him in the PTM rankings. One of the fastest players in the organization, he could profile as a fourth outfielder even if his bat doesn't develop.
  • LHRP Giovanni Soto (Age 22, AA) - It looks like the Indians are turning Soto into a reliever. He's ranked here because of his previous success as a starter, even though his stuff hasn't wowed scouts.
  • C/2B Tony Wolters (Age 20, A+) - Probably was going to profile as a utility infielder because of his marginal defense at second, but this spring the Indians made the decision to convert him to catcher. If he can learn the position, his bat will make him a fine catching prospect.
  • LHSP T.J. House (Age 23, AA) - Didn't have a great season in Carolina, but good enough to keep him on this list with his promotion to Akron. The Indians added him to the 40-man roster this winter rather than TJ McFarland, and we should know fairly quickly whether that was the correct decision.
  • RHRP Trey Haley (Age 23, AA) - Hurt most of the spring, he's recently returned to action with Akron. Should be in Columbus by the end of the season.
  • SS Juan Diaz (Age 24, AAA) - With legitimate prospects at the three lower full-season levels and Asdrubal Cabrera in Cleveland, it's going to be tough for Diaz to stick around in this organization long. He's a big guy, but still a decent to good defender at shortstop. His bat has been what's holding him back, but he's always been young for his level.
  • LHP TJ McFarland (Age 24, MLB/Baltimore) - Profiled as a fringy starter, but the Orioles selected him in the Rule 5 Draft to use him out of the bullpen. The early returns have been very good, and it looks like he's in Baltimore to stay.
  • RHP Hector Rondon (Age 25, MLB/Chicago Cubs) - Finally pitched late last season after several years of injuries, only to be selected by the Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft. His upside is still high, though he'll need to build back his arm to remain a starter. I'm guessing that's what the Cubs are planning to do, for he'll spend the season in the bullpen.
  • IF Cord Phelps (Age 25, AAA) - Probably not a major-league starter at second or shortstop, but could make a career for himself as a utility player.
  • 1B Jesus Aguilar (Age 23, AA) - Has been a marginal prospect for a while because of his power potential, but last season improved his plate discipline. His bat will either carry him to the majors or relegate him to a career in the minors.

Too Accomplished to be Prospects - comments to be added later

  • 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (Age 24) - Now the team's starting third baseman. Has shown occasional signs of power, but he's still an unfinished product.
  • RHSP Zach McAllister (Age 25) - Somehow the Indians got him for Austin Kearns, though the Indians have a knack for getting great value out of minor trades. He's in the rotation to stay.
  • RHRP Brian Shaw (Age 25) - One of the many players that came to the Indians in the Choo-Bauer-Gregorius deal, Shaw has been impressive so far this season, with 13 strikes and no walks in 9.2 innings pitched. He has just over 1 season of MLB service time.

    Too Old to Matter (in no particular order) - full comments to be added later

    Prospects that Might Matter at some point (a partial list) - presented without comment at this point because of time considerations. I will say this, though; there are several players here that I fully expect to make to the jump to the PTM list by the middle of the season. When in doubt, I've kept a player from PTM status; this includes top-rated prospects like Tyler Naquin and Anthony Santander,

    Overall Thoughts

    Once you get past Bauer and the middle infielders, this is system thin in top-flight talent, especially in starting pitching. Which is one of the main reasons why the Indians got Bauer this winter. The two Rule 5 picks (McFarland and Rondon) could really hurt them, leaving a sizable gap between Bauer/Carrasco and Mitch Brown, especially if Salazar doesn't develop. As OhioTommy eloquently put it in a post this past week, the Indians may be drafting talented starting pitchers, but they aren't developing them into viable major-league starters, and that's a big problem.

    The Indians do seem better at developing relief pitching with CC Lee, Scott Barnes, Trey Haley, and Shawn Armstrong (among others) as the next group after Allen/Hagadone. And I do like the crop of position players they're developing; even the less ballyhooed infield group in Akron (Urshela/R. Rodriguez/Ramirez/Aguilar) all have decent chances of becoming major-league players. I'm still skeptical on Tyler Naquin, though early returns in Carolina have been promising.

    Over the next couple days I'll finish up the comments and add B-Ref links to all the players on the lists. I'll also replace the current Prospect Tracker in the Library with this post; it should make it easier to sift through the minor-league updates. I'll also update this list a couple times during the season as events cause me to revisit earlier rankings.