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Cleveland Indians prospect Mike Papi finished strong. Can he step forward in 2016?

Bad, then good is better than good, then bad, right?

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Mike Papi was the #38 overall pick in the 2014 draft. A very good college player for the University of Virginia, it was thought that he might be a prospect who could be moved through the farm system relatively quickly, and so despite him not doing especially well for Lake County during the final couple months of 2014, he was promoted to High-A Lynchburg for the start of 2015.

For two months, that looked like the wrong decision, as Papi appeared largely overmatched. Heading into the final days of May, Papi was batting just .163, with a strikeout in 26% of his plate appearances. He had eight doubles, but hadn't hit a single home run, leaving him with an anemic slugging percentage of .218. The one saving grace was that his walk rate was very strong, giving him an almost passable on-base percentage of .311. His defense in left field wasn't drawing real criticism, but wasn't attracting a lot of positive attention either, and he isn't a threat to steal many bases, which means his potential value is tied almost entirely to his bat, and his bat just wasn't doing much.

Just as a lot of LGT members who follow prospects were starting to sour on Papi though, he began to play better. May ended with a road series against the Frederick Keys, and Papi had his best series of the season to that point, with four hits, including a pair of doubles.

From the start of that series (May 30) trough the end of the season, Papi's numbers were much closer to what you hope to see from a player chosen in the top 40 of the previous year's draft. He hit .275/.390/.431, with 32 extra-base hits in 269 at bats. His strikeout rate was still high (21%), but in this day and age for a player with decent power, that's actually not all that high a rate.

In terms of some concerns: Only 4 of those 32 extra-base hits were home runs, which means even during the stretch when he was playing well, he was only putting the ball over the fence at a rate that would give him 7 or 8 home runs for a full season. His BABIP for those 82 games was .355, which is probably unsustainably high for Papi.

It's likely that some of those doubles will turn into home runs as Papi (who was 22 years old this season) continues to develop, so I'm not terribly concerned about that, and even with a more reasonable BABIP, his numbers following those terrible eight weeks would have been good. It doesn't seem like he was quite ready for High-A, but eight weeks also isn't an especially long adjustment period, so I don't think the organizations decision to start him there was a mistake. Given how his year went though, it will be interesting to see what the team does with him for the beginning of 2016.

Having put up good numbers for more than three months in High-A, they might consider sending him to Double-A Akron, but it might make more sense to give him a little more time in Lynchburg, and then promote him midseason, if his production merits such a move. Papi is behind a number of other outfielders in the system right now, so there's unlikely to be any need for him in Cleveland until at least 2018. I'd lean towards sending him back to High-A, and seeing if he can begin next year there the way he ended this one.

Team (League) G PA H 1B 2B 3B HR SB AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Lynchburg (A+) 127 505 98 58 34 2 4 6 .236 .362 .356 117