April Report Cards for Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2013

April Report Cards for Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects

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    The Cleveland Indians have a nice talent pool in the minor leagues.

    With top prospects Francisco Lindor, Trevor Bauer and several others making their name with the team's farm affiliates, the future in Cleveland is starting to look brighter and brighter.

    The purpose of this article is to analyze the start of the season for each of the team's top 10 prospects. However, it can also help to give a greater understanding of the direction the team is trending and that can be just as important as what's going on at the big league level.

    To establish who the organization's top 10 prospects are, we'll use the Cleveland Indians official rankings (per Clevelandindians.com).

    So, without further ado, here are April report cards for the Tribe's top 10 prospects.

    Keep in mind that no prospects will receive an A+ grade as that would require a perfect start to the season.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

10. Jesus Aguilar (1B)

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    Level: AA

    Stat Line: 23 G, 90 AB, .256/.327/.356, 2 HR, 3 2B, 26 RBI, 10 R

    Technically, Jesus Aguilar is the team's 12th-ranked prospect this season. His inclusion in this article comes through the fact that neither Dillon Howard, nor Alex Monsalve, have played a game yet this season. So, in an attempt to give you all a little more to look at, Aguilar was inserted into these rankings.

    Aguilar exhibits plus power that should only increase as he continues to improve as an all-around hitter.

    This year, Aguilar has flashed a bit of that power having cracked two home runs in the season's early goings. 

    Aguilar is going to strike out quite a bit, as evidenced by his 24.8 percent strikeout rate and while that is high, he makes up for it with a great number of RBI—26 in 90 at-bats.

    In his 23 games played, Aguilar has been a force in the Aeros lineup. He currently leads the Eastern League in RBI with 26 (per MiLB.com)

    Given the relatively high OBP of the players around him—six of the team's regulars have an OBP above .300 (per MiLB.com)—Aguilar should continue to receive regular opportunities to drive in runs over the course of the year.

    Aguilar may not be the most prolific hitter in the Indians organization, but his plus power, at a corner position, increases the likelihood that he could stick at the big league level.

    Grade: B+

9. Jose Ramirez (2B)

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    Level: AA

    Stat Line: 26 G, 101 AB, .267/.348/.327, 1 HR, 1 3B, 1 2B, 10 RBI, 21 R, 12 SB

    Jose Ramirez is a fast-rising prospect in the Indians organization. He has the glove to stick at second base while his speed and bat are plus tools given his young age.

    Ramirez landed in Double-A Akron this year after a 2012 season in which he played at two levels (Low-A and A).

    In his first 26 games, Ramirez has showed great plate discipline and great speed. In his 117 plate appearances, Ramirez touts an impressive 11.1 percent walk rate with a strikeout rate equal to that.

    It's rare to see players in Double-A, at Ramirez's age, who exhibit equal strikeout to walk ratios and, should that trend continue, Ramirez will surely experience high levels of success.

    What's important about Ramirez's heightened ability to get on base is the fact that it allows him to use his plus speed.

    Ramirez has stolen 12 bases on 16 attempts and currently leads the Eastern League in that category (per MiLB.com).

    Ramirez is trending up over the past eight games and is slashing .310/.444/.414 with one HR, two RBI, seven runs scored and six stolen bases. Over that same time, Ramirez has walked seven times while striking out just three.

    Ramirez's average should continue to rise over the course of the season and with that, so should his OBP. Given his impressive bat-on-ball skills and his overall solid approach at the plate, it wouldn't be a surprise for Ramirez to steal 40-50 bases this season.

    Grade: A-

8. Danny Salazar (SP)

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    Level: AA

    Stat Line: 5 GS, 1-3, 22.2 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 12.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 4.43 K/BB, 8.3 H/9, 0.4 HR/9

    Danny Salazar is the first of only two pitchers to crack the organization's top 10 prospects list. Since signing with the Indians as an international free agent in 2007, Salazar has made a stop at each level, en-route to his current position as a starter with Double-A Akron.

    The 23-year-old righty is playing in his second season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010 and that bodes well for his performance this year. 

    Now, in 2013, Salazar is running his fastball up into the mid-high 90s and his plus change should help him run through Double-A with relative ease this year. With a lack of depth in the Indians starting rotation, it wouldn't be surprising to see Salazar receive a call-up by the time September rolls around.

    So far, through five starts, Salazar has been pretty good logging 22.2 innings with a 3.57 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and solid ratios including a prolific 12.3 K/9 rate—he ranks sixth in the Eastern League in strikeouts.

    Salazar is stingy on the mound and is allowing just 2.8 BB/9 and 8.3 H/9 on the young season. Salazar's H/9 ratio is higher than it was last season, but that mark should decrease as his BAbip decreases from a lofty .370 to .429 over the last seven days.

    Salazar has been solid so far in 2013 and as the year progresses, he should continue to strike out a high number of batters while walking very few.

    Grade: A-

7. Tony Wolters (SS/2B)

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    Level: A+

    Stat Line: 10 G, 35 AB, .200/.268/.257, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 6 R, 2 SB

    The 2013 season marks Tony Wolters' fourth season with the Tribe and his second at High-A Carolina. After a promising 2011 season with Low-A Mahoning Valley, Wolters struggled in 2012 and is struggling again in 2013.

    What will be interesting to watch with Wolters this year is his transition to a new position.

    Wolters was a shortstop when he came to the organization. In 2012, the Indians moved him to second base, and now, in 2013, the 20-year-old will be used primarily as a catcher.

    The Indians lack promising depth at catcher in the minor leagues—only one other catcher makes the team's top 20 prospects—so the move may help to shore up one of the team's weaker positions.

    In 2013, Wolters has played just one game behind the plate and has been used mostly as a DH. He has, however, recorded a putout in his only fielding chance this season and has yet to find an opportunity to throw out a baserunner attempting a steal.

    Offensively it's been a major struggle for Wolters in his first 10 games. In 35 at-bats, Wolters is slashing just .200/.268/.257 while sporting a 29.3 percent strikeout rate and just a 9.8 percent walk rate.

    If April is any indication, Wolters may experience some growing pains at the plate this year as his offensive game takes a back seat to his development as a catcher.

    Grade: D

6. Tyler Naquin (CF)

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    Level: A+

    Stat Line: 25 G, 98 AB, .306/.364/.469, 2 HR, 1 3B, 8 2B, 14 RBI, 18 R, 3 SB

    Tyler Naquin was Cleveland's first-round selection in the 2012 MLB Draft. Naquin came from a great program at Texas A&M and was immediately assigned to Low-A Mahoning Valley.

    This season, Naquin received a promotion up to High-A Carolina and has yet to disappoint. In 25 games he has a .308/.364/.469 triple-slash and has registered an RBI in 10-of-25 games and a run scored in 14-of-25.

    He seems to have added a little leverage to his swing this year as he has already launched two home runs in 25 games after a 2012 season where he had none over 36 games.

    Over his last 10 games, he is sporting a .308/.357/.513 slash line with a home run, five doubles, five RBI and 14 runs scored. If he can keep up with his current hot streak, look for Naquin to rise quickly through the minor league ranks this season. 

    Naquin is a plus hitter, and his .308 batting average—good for seventh in the Carolina League—is evidence of that.

    While he may not have elite or even plus home run power, the 22-year-old possesses above-average gap power that will produce many extra-base hits.

    Naquin is a plus fielder who has decent range for a center fielder to compliment a great arm. As a center fielder, Naquin has made just one error in the 2013 season and even has an outfield assist to his credit.

    Grade: A

5. Mitch Brown (SP)

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    Level: A

    Stat Line: 5 GS, 1-1, 15.2 IP, 11.49 ERA, 2.04 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 6.3 BB/9, 12.1 H/9, 2.3 HR/9.

    Mitch Brown, another product of the 2012 MLB Draft, was selected by the Indians, out of high school, with the team's second-round pick—79th overall. Brown reported to the organization immediately and ended up making eight starts with Cleveland's Rookie League affiliate in 2012.

    This year, the 19-year-old joined Single-A Lake County and has struggled mightily allowing 20 earned runs over 15.2 innings.

    Brown allowed four earned runs in each of his first four starts and followed up those four with a start in which he went just two innings, allowing 12 earned runs on four hits and one walk.

    Contrary to what his stat line suggests, Brown has the ability to miss bats. His curveball, cutter and change-up are ahead of where you'd expect them to be given his age.

    Though his 11 walks in 15.2 IP is hardly encouraging, fans can take some solace in the fact that Brown has been the victim of a bit of bad luck. Over his five starts, he sports an astronomically high BAbip of .405. As the season continues, look for that number to decrease, along with his ERA, WHIP, H/9 and HR/9.

    Grade: D-

4. Ronny Rodriguez (SS/2B)

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    Level: AA

    Stat Line: 25 G, 97 AB, .247/.260/.361, 1 HR, 3 3B, 2 2B, 12 RBI, 12 R, 3 SB

    The Indians are rich with middle infielders, currently though, the only player working to his full potential is Francisco Lindor—discussed later.

    Ronny Rodriguez is the third middle infielder on this list, and he won't be the last. This year, Rodriguez has struggled in his first 25 games with Double-A Akron. In 97 at-bats, the 21-year-old is slashing just .247/.260/.361.

    Rodriguez's peripheral stats are on point though and he has 12 RBI and 12 runs scored on the year.

    Though his slash line isn't where many—including Rodriguez—would like it to be, his past 12 games have shown plenty of improvement. In said 12 games, he's slashing .283/.298/.391 with one double, two triples, five RBI, 10 runs scored and two steals.

    The problem for Rodriguez, though, is his inability to draw a walk. Rodriguez has a 16:2 K/BB ratio this year and although his strikeout rate is actually lower than it was last year—15.7 percent, down from 18.2 last year—his walk rate is alarmingly low.

    Last year, Rodriguez walked in just 3.9 percent of his plate appearances; this year, that figure has decreased to a completely unacceptable 2.0 percent. Rodriguez has great power potential from the shortstop position—19 HR last season—but his free-swinging nature may doom his 2013 season.

    Grade: D

3. Dorssys Paulino (SS)

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    Level: A

    Stat Line: 21 G, 78 AB, .218/.291/.218, 5 RBI, 11 R, 1 SB

    Dorssys Paulino represents another of the Indians talented middle infield prospects. The 18-year-old shortstop is playing above his age right now in A ball, so his somewhat underwhelming performance in the season's first month is expected.

    There are positives in Paulino's statistics though, as he has driven in five runs and scored 11.

    Paulino has yet to register an extra-base hit, yet alone a home run in 2013, but his 6'0" frame gives him some projectable power—the Indians believe that his power will grade out as 6/8 (per Clevelandindians.com).

    Paulino has struggled in the field this year as well as he's committed 10 errors in Lake County's first 21 games. His 10 errors have led to a .863 fielding percentage, down 19 points from last year's mark of .882.

    Young shortstops tend to take longer to develop in the field, but it is definitely an area of Paulino's game that needs improvement.

    The Midwest League is hitter friendly and 26 players are currently batting .300 or higher, so look for Paulino's offensive game to pick up as the season progresses (per MiLB.com).

    Grade: D+

2. Trevor Bauer (SP)

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    Level: AAA/MLB

    Stat Line: 5 GS, 2-1, 28 IP, 2.57 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 6.1 BB/9, 1.63 K/BB, 5.8 H/9, 0.96 HR/9

    Trevor Bauer made his second major league start against the Phillies Wednesday night. and while he struck out five and didn't allow a run over five innings pitched, he walked six batters.

    Bauer is the epitome of an enigma. In his first start with the Indians back in the beginning of April, Bauer allowed three earned runs over five innings pitched while walking seven.

    Cleveland then opted to send Bauer back to Triple-A Columbus where he only walked six batters over 18 innings pitched.

    Bauer has incredible strikeout potential and, after just three starts with Columbus, he found himself in 13th on the International League leader board in strikeouts (per MiLB.com).

    Bauer's a curious one but the trouble clearly lies in the number of walks he gives up per game. Over the course of his short big league career, the 22-year-old has ratios of 8.2 K/9 and 8.9 BB/9. 

    He's allowing just 2.7 H/9 with the Tribe this year, but his 11.7 BB/9 are going to give him fits on the mound and could lead to another demotion if he doesn't turn things around.

    Grade: B+

1. Francisco Lindor (SS)

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    Level: A+

    Stat Line: 24 GP, 91 AB, .351/.406/.505, 1 HR, 3 3B, 7 2B, 11 RBI, 12 R, 7 SB

    Francisco Lindor is easily the best prospect in the Indians farm system. Lindor broke in with the organization as a 17-year-old and has moved up to High-A ball after just two seasons.

    This year, Lindor has taken off with the Mudcats and is slashing a gaudy .351/.406/.505 with 10 extra-base hits and seven stolen bases.

    There's been no slowing down in Lindor's season either as he has been consistently good all season. In fact, over his last 12 games, Lindor is slashing .378/.451/.556 with a home run, five doubles, eight RBI and eight runs scored.

    Currently, Lindor ranks in the Carolina League's top five in average, hits and triples (per MiLB.com). 

    Lindor is also a solid fielder who has the ability and the tools to stick at the position. He boasts a strong arm and a solid glove, as evidenced by his .960 fielding percentage and 4.00 RF/G marks this season.

    Lindor's a slick fielder and is well beyond where you'd expect a 19-year-old shortstop to be in his progression in the field.

    He is taking the Carolina League by storm and his short time in High-A has proved to be a rousing success. Look for Lindor to receive a promotion to Double-A Akron sometime this year.

    Grade: A