Ranking the Cleveland Indians' Best Minor League Bargaining Chips
The July 31 Major League Baseball trade deadline is approaching quickly. And the deadline is approaching at the same rate as the Indians' playoff hopes are diminishing.
The club currently sits at 47-47 with a 7.5-game deficit between them and the division-leading Detroit Tigers. In the Wild Card standings the Tribe are just 3.5 games back but trail the Kansas City Royals and the hard-hitting Toronto Blue Jays in the race for one of the two top spots, currently held by the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners.
In short, the front office needs to make something happen. The Indians have struggled both with their starting pitching and with their offense, and they could use, at the very least, a mid-rotation option and one or two bench bats.
The Indians aren't in a position to give up major league players, so they'll likely have to dip into the farm system to fill some of their more glaring weaknesses. The team possesses a wealth of middle infield prospects, as well as some decent pitching prospects with mid-rotation potential.
So who are the team's most-tradable prospects? I'll show you that here by ranking the best, most-tradable players in the system.
Let's get started.
All stats are current through play on July 13, 2014 and come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
7. Ronny Rodriguez, 3B/2B/SS, Double-A
The first of several middle infield prospects to grace this list, Ronny Rodriguez ranks as the seventh-best trade-chip in the Indians' farm system.
Rodriguez is an adept fielder, capable of locking down either middle infield position, but he's currently blocked from his natural position—shortstop—due to the presence of top-prospect Francisco Lindor.
Rodriguez has an above-average arm, is quick to both his glove and barehand side and takes aggressive routes to the ball, making him an ideal candidate to play shortstop at the next level. With no future as a shortstop (or a second baseman because of Jason Kipnis), the organization could look to move Rodriguez at the deadline.
The only thing holding the 22-year-old back so far has been his work at the plate. Rodriguez is a free swinger. Although it doesn't show up a lot in the strikeout category, it shows in the fact that he's walked at just a 3.9 percent clip throughout his minor league career, while also posting just a .256 batting average.
Rodriguez's frame (6'0", 170 pounds) and tremendous bat speed suggest that he has the potential to hit for league-average power at maturity, but he's held back by the fact that he is impatient and tends to swing at less-than-ideal pitches.
6. Adam Plutko, RHP, High-A
Adam Plutko isn't the sexiest of prospects, but he has the potential to slot in somewhere near the middle or backend of a big league rotation.
The 22-year-old honed his skills at UCLA, and until his breakout season in 2013, he had generally been stuck in the shadow of teammates Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole. Plutko doesn't have nearly the same upside as either of those pitchers, but he does do a few things well.
Plutko has a decent fastball and a live arm. Though his velocity was down last season, it's ticked back up a little here in 2014, and there's hope that he can return to his high school form, when he would routinely reach the mid-90s.
Plutko also commands his pitches quite well, and it shows in his walk rate and his ability to work efficiently through games. This year, in his debut season, Plutko has averaged an impressive 2.0 BB/9 while working in excess of five innings per start.
The young righty also features three secondary offerings: a curveball, slider and changeup. Though the former two offerings lag behind the latter, all three pitches should be at least big league average at maturity, while the changeup has the makings of an above-average pitch.
Plutko has a solid pitch repertoire, and it should be enough to get him to the big league level as a backend starter. If he's able to regain all of his lost velocity from high school, Plutko could be a solid middle-of-the-rotation option on a contending team as soon as 2016.
5. Dace Kime, RHP, Single-A
If the Indians are going to try to acquire one of the second-tier starting pitchers available at the deadline, then Dace Kime could find himself on the block.
The 22-year-old possess a big, strong frame (6'4", 200 pounds) and is capable of running his above-average fastball up into the low-mid 90s.
Though his fastball is good, his curveball might be his best offering. The pitch features a strong 11-7 break and has the potential to develop into a plus offering. Kime also utilizes a cutter and a changeup, and although they both lag behind his other pitches, they should be average offerings at full maturity.
Kime's game does have drawbacks, however. The University of Louisville product struggles with his control and it's shown in his performance as a professional.
In 2013 and 2014, Kime has averaged 5.8 and 4.1 walks per nine innings, respectively. The control problems Kime struggles with have also caused him to be a wildly inefficient pitcher at times, and it shows in the fact that he's averaged under five innings of work per start in each of his first two seasons.
The goods news on Kime is that he's young and relatively new to life as a starter—he didn't start for Louisville until late in his final season—and should continue to develop better control and command of his pitches with more innings.
4. Luigi Rodriguez, OF, High-A
Of all the Indians' outfield prospects, Luigi Rodriguez is the most likely to go at the trade deadline. The team will try their best to hold on to Tyler Naquin, and unless they feel as though they're able to bring back one of the game's top arms, Naquin will stay.
With both Naquin and Clint Frazier ahead of him on the future depth chart, and with the numerous outfield options locked down beyond the 2014 season by Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, Nick Swisher and David Murphy, Rodriguez becomes expendable.
This isn't a bad thing, however, as the 21-year-old offers a lot of upside for a would-be trade partner.
Rodriguez has the speed and instincts to stick in center field and has the potential to develop into an above-average hitter with plus bat speed and outstanding plate vision.
The big knock on Rodriguez is his swing plane. The young outfielder takes a long, looping path to the ball, and it can lead to a lot of strikeouts—he had a 25.5 percent strikeout rate in 2012 and a 27.5 percent rate in 2013—as well as some inconsistencies in his ability to barrel the ball.
If Rodriguez is able to cut down his swing a little bit and make it more compact, he could develop into an everyday option in center field.
3. Dorssys Paulino, SS, Single-A
At this stage in his development, Dorssys Paulino doesn't really do anything that makes him an extraordinary talent. The Dominican Republic native is just 19 years old, however, and has a few years to go until he's a big-league-ready prospect.
Paulino breezed through two levels of play in his debut season, conquering both rookie and Low-A ball in 2012. Unfortunately, since then the young shortstop has struggled at the dish. Since the start of the 2013 season, Paulino has logged 753 at-bats but has managed just a .240/.296/.339 slash line in that span.
Defensively, Paulino is average. He doesn't have a particularly strong arm, nor does he display an above-average glove or range. Realistically, his future is likely as a second baseman—where he'd be totally blocked in Cleveland—or as a third baseman—where he doesn't have the power to stick, anyway.
Though he has the potential to develop into at least an average hitter, Paulino's positional future is far less clear, and even if he is able to stick at shortstop, it's unlikely that he'll be able to reach the big leagues there either.
Paulino is the perfect trade candidate.
2. Tyler Naquin, OF, Double-A
Come the July 31 trade deadline, Tyler Naquin could be the most easily moved prospect in the Indians' system. The 23-year-old has a solid all-around game, and his potential upside as an everyday center fielder makes him an attractive option for a team looking to sell off a starter at the deadline.
Naquin's best tools are his near-plus arm and speed, but the Texas A&M product also carries an above-average hit tool and the potential for average power.
Naquin has shown this season that he's a more-than-capable offensive option and has worked his way to a .313/.371/.424 slash line with 21 extra-base hits, four home runs, 30 RBI, 54 runs scored and 14 stolen bases.
Naquin's ultimate upside is that of an everyday center fielder with the ability to post perennial .300/.350/.400 seasons with 10-15 home runs and 20-plus stolen bases at or near the top of the Indians batting order.
While it can be tough to let go of a player with that kind of potential, Nauqin is going to bring the Indians back the next-best thing after a package anchored by Francisco Lindor.
1. Francisco Lindor, SS, Double-A
If the Indians want to make a big splash at the deadline, then trading Francisco Lindor is the best way to do it. The 20-year-old ranks as Mike Rosenbaum's No. 4 prospect in his mid-season prospect rankings, and is one of the top shortstop prospects in his class.
Lindor is a flat-out stud and is capable of becoming an elite player on both sides of the ball. The Montverde High School product boasts 70-grade defense that draws frequent comparisons to former Indians great Omar Vizquel.
On the offensive side of the ball, Lindor is equally adept. His hit tool already grades out as near-plus, and with additional seasoning he has the potential to lead big league shortstops in batting average on a semi-regular basis.
Though he hits for little power right now, Lindor has some functional power thanks to quick wrists and well-above-average bat speed. At full maturity, Lindor has the potential for 10-15 home runs. If everything comes together at the plate, he'll be one of the game's elite shortstops for at least a decade.
Lindor has been deemed untouchable by the organization. Unfortunately, any deal the Indians could make for one of the league's top-tier arms—e.g. David Price, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels—would have to include Lindor.
In fact, the last time the Indians checked in on Price, the asking price was Lindor, Danny Salazar and Carlos Santana. Oof.