Top prospects like Francisco Lindor and Trevor Bauer tend to grab headlines as we inch closer and closer to spring training. However, this season, the Indians have invited an intriguing group of "sleeper" prospects worth monitoring this spring.
Before we begin, it'd benefit the group to set out the parameters of how this group was compiled.
First, the players had to be invited to spring training. A prospect's status in this area was determined by analyzing the team's 40-man roster and the list of non-roster invitees posted on the team's official website.
From there, I looked at each individual prospect invited to spring training and cut the list down to players who could earn significant consideration for future inclusion in top-prospects lists or mid-season/September call-ups. Ultimately, the list was narrowed down to eight prospects.
These eight players may not be household names now but each possesses a skill set that could send them skyrocketing up top-prospects lists this season.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
DOB: 07/21/1990 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6'0", 190 pounds
Highest Level Reached: Double-A (2013)
Jake Lowery, a sweet-swinging catcher, makes his first spring appearance with the Indians.
Though his bat speed isn't particularly great, Lowery has some leverage to his swing, leading to the potential for 10-15 home run seasons at the big league level. He also displays decent pitch recognition, working to a career K% and BB% of 23.7 percent and 14.4 percent respectively.
Defensively, Lowery receives the ball well behind the plate and displays an above-average ability for framing pitches. Lowery does a good job of getting out of his crouch quickly. This, combined with his arm strength, has allowed him to throw out a solid 30 percent of would-be base stealers over his minor league career.
Lowery has spent the last three seasons climbing through the Indians minor league system.
Over 249 games between the Low-A, Single-A, High-A and Double-A levels, Lowery boasts a .246/.354/.415 slash line with 162-game averages of 14 home runs, 46 doubles, 84 RBI and 74 runs scored. Lowery capped off last season with a fantastic showing at Double-A Akron, posting a .275/.363/.449 slash line, six home runs, 21 doubles, 28 RBI and 22 runs scored.
With a strong showing in spring training, and another minor league season under his belt, Lowery could pass Tony Wolters and Alex Monsalve as the organization's best catching prospect.
DOB: 06/09/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 5'10", 177 pounds
Highest Level Reached: High-A (2012 & 2013)
If for no other reason, Tony Wolters is an intriguing prospect because of the transition he's making from middle-infield to catching. It's an interesting move, and given the wealth of middle-infield talent on the Indians minor league rosters, it gives Wolters the best opportunity possible to earn a spot on the big league roster in the not-so distant future.
Wolters appeared in 58 games as a catcher last season, displaying average arm strength. His receiving ability and pitch calling will need work. However, given the Indians' current catching situation, there's no rush on Wolters to reach the big league level, which lends itself well to his improvement in those areas.
Though his modest 5'10", 177-pound frame wouldn't suggest it, Wolters is deceptively strong in his lower half. This leads way to the belief that he can add power as he matures.
The 21-year-old has quick wrists and decent bat speed, but his feel for the strike zone will be his defining trait as he moves through the minor league ranks.
Over the last two seasons at High-A Carolina, Wolters appeared in 205 games, racking up a .266/.339/.385 with 11 home runs, three triples, 43 doubles, 91 RBI and 102 runs scored. He's unlikely to gain a spot on the Indians roster anytime this season, but his converting to a new makes for a storyline to follow.
Position: Second Base
DOB: 04/26/1990 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 5'11", 190 pounds
Highest Level Reached: High-A (2013)
Joe Wendle is a hitter in the truest sense of the word. Over his first two seasons (168 games), the 23-year-old scraped together a .307/.373/.497 slash line with 20 home runs, 47 doubles, nine triples, 101 RBI, 105 runs scored, 14 stolen bases and a 104:59 K/BB ratio.
Wendle is aggressive at the plate, but he's got a good feel for controlling the strike zone. The young infielder displays great pitch recognition and the ability to hit both fastballs and breaking balls with relative consistency.
Wendle has displayed plus power for a middle infielder, which comes as a surprise in relation to his 5'11", 190-pound frame. This is largely the result of a slightly leveraged swing and his ability to whip the bat through the strike zone quickly.
The young infielder's best tool is his glove. Although he's amassed 25 errors on just 719 chances (.965 FLD%), Wendle takes aggressive paths to the ball and has above-average range for the position.
The Indians seem committed to keeping Wendle at second base—he played 101 of his 107 games at the position last season. However, with so many players ahead of him on the depth chart—and a major roadblock at the big league level in Jason Kipnis—he may benefit from a position change, or even a trade.
Wendle spent the entire 2013 season at High-A Carolina and should make the jump to Double-A to start the season. Don't rule out a jump to Triple-A by season's end.
Position: Right Field
DOB: 11/03/1988 (Age: 25)
Height/Weight: 6'0", 219 pounds
Highest Level Reached: Double-A (2013)
The Indians selected Carlos Moncrief as a pitcher back in the 14th round of the 2008 MLB draft. Since then, the 25-year-old has moved to the outfield and has become one of the best sources of raw power in the Indians' farm system.
Moncrief, like most lefties, has plenty of leverage in his swing. His stocky 6'0", 219-pound frame also helps in his power production and carries the potential for 20-plus home run seasons should he mature into a big league average hitter.
Moncrief's power is legit, but multiple deficiencies in his approach could keep him from actualizing his potential at the big league level. Moncrief has a difficult time recognizing spin on breaking balls and has a tendency to overcommit weight to his front side early in his swing.
These issues lead to massive strikeout totals over his four seasons—24.6 percent career strikeout percentage. Last season though, Moncrief made significant strides in that department, reducing his strikeout percentage to a much more respectable 17.8 percent.
Defensively, Moncrief fits well as a corner outfielder and profiles as a right fielder at the big league level. Moncrief runs relatively well for his size, but not well enough to patrol center field. Luckily, his previous development as a pitcher plays in his favor as his plus-plus arm strength gives him the ability to stick in right field.
Moncrief's raw power should be monitored closely in spring training. Following spring training, another solid season of power production could earn him an outside chance at a late-season call-up in 2014.
Position: Utility Infielder (2B/SS)
DOB: 09/17/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 5'9", 165 pounds
Highest Level Reached: MLB (2013)
The Indians farm system is loaded with middle-infield depth, and Jose Ramirez might just be the most intriguing of the bunch. Last season, as a 20-year-old, Ramirez earned himself a September call-up to Cleveland.
Over 15 games with the team, the young infielder totaled a .333/.429/.500 slash line with one triple, five runs scored and a 2:2 K/BB ratio. All in all, over 125 games, Ramirez managed a .273/.328/.352 slash line with three home runs, 16 doubles, seven triples, 38 RBI, 83 runs scored, 38 stolen bases and a 41:43 K/BB ratio.
Ramirez handles the bat well and that trait should continue through to his big league career. He'll never hit for much power, but as he continues to refine his approach at the plate, Ramirez's hit tool should carry him to a spot as, at the least, a solid utility infielder.
Ramirez runs very well, and that serves him well defensively, allowing his glove to play up a grade with his superb range.
Ramirez partnered with top prospect Francisco Lindor last season to create one of the best double-play duos in the minors. Although it will be difficult for that to continue with Jason Kipnis blocking his position at the major league level, the 21-year-old should have little difficulty finding his way back to the big leagues by mid-season or September.
Position: First Base
DOB: 06/30/1990 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6'3", 250 pounds
Highest Level Reached: Double-A (2013)
Jesus Aguilar is another one of the team's bigger minor league power threats. The 23-year-old has racked up 72 home runs over 567 games, good for a per-162 game average of 20 home runs.
Aguilar, like most young power hitters, struggles with pitch recognition. You can see in the video above that he tends to lunge at off-speed offerings. This leads to a tendency for whiffs, or weak contact on off-speed pitches.
Aguilar's raw strength helps him get the bat through the zone with relative quickness. As his frame suggests though, when Aguilar squares the ball up, he's going to hit the ball incredibly hard.
Defensively, Aguilar is just good enough to stick as a position player, though he may be better suited for designated hitter work at the big league level due to clunky movements in the field.
Aguilar needs to bring his hit tool up to par, and he'll do that through the continuance of his decreasing strikeout percentage—24.2 percent in 2011, 22.4 percent in 2012 and 18.9 percent in 2013. Should Aguilar continue to make more consistent contact at the plate, we could see him sooner rather than later as a legitimate DH option at the big league level.
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: 09/29/1989 (Age: 24)
Height/Weight: 6'1", 205 pounds
Highest Level Reached: Triple-A (2013)
We cap off this list of players to watch with left-handed starter, T.J. House.
House isn't going to blow away hitters with plus-velocity—his fastball sits between 88-92—but his arsenal also features an above-average changeup and developing slider. Mechanically, House is sound, and his ability to hide the ball from right-handed hitters allows his fastball to play up a grade.
House has experienced varying levels of success at Single-A, High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. Over five minor league seasons, House owns a combined 3.99 ERA a 1.39 WHIP and averages of 7.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and 1.97 K/BB.
Last season, House spent most of his time in Triple-A Columbus, where he allowed a 4.32 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP over 141.2 innings pitched.
House earned a spot on the team's 40-man during the 2013 season so he receives an automatic invitation to spring training. Though he's unlikely to win the team's fifth rotational spot given the presence of top prospect Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and a slew of non-roster invitees, House could find his way into the team's starting rotation sometime late this season or early next season.