With minor league camp finally opening and games getting underway soon, we’ll soon see or hear a little more from some of the Indians prospects. Francisco Lindor, Tony Wolters, Ronny Rodriguez, Jesus Aguilar, Tyler Holt, and Danny Salazar, among others, got some looks in game action during the early going, all of whom were in their first big league camp, unofficially anyway.
With that in mind, instead of doing a traditional prospect ranking (which I actually already did at LakeCounty-Sentinel.com, if you’d like to see it), let’s build the Indians all-prospect team. Essentially, who are the top prospects at each position in the organization based on a mixture of future potential and where they are, developmental wise.
Catcher: Yan Gomes- Alex Monsalve would be the choice here, but it’s still fair enough to call Gomes a prospect. He’s likely to open at AAA-Columbus and it sounds like the Indians are convinced he could wind up being an everyday catcher at the big league level someday. He’s got a strong arm behind the plate and he’s had a tremendous spring with the bat. Monsalve has grown defensively every year in the minors, but Gomes is much closer to being a finished product at this point. If Gomes promise comes through, the Indians will have an interesting decision soon at finding a spot for him on the roster.
1st Base: Jesus Aguilar- there really isn’t anyone close in the Indians system right now in terms of potential to unseat Aguilar at this spot. This will be a big year for the big man, as the Indians should get a better idea of where his career might be going, getting a full season at AA Akron. I’v reiterated that Aguilar is a smart hitter. He knows what he needs to improve on, it’s just a matter of reputation and that light clicking on for him. At the end of the 2012 season, he still had some holes in his swing and his biggest problem was being susceptible to any pitcher who could throw a breaking ball for a strike. He still fishes at times as well for the bad ones.
In addition to Aguilar’s 25-30 home run potential, his defense is also well above average. I’ve heard several scouts and instructors mention how well he moves for a guy his size and he won’t have to be a DH if he ever does crack the big leagues. At the end of the day though, his value is tied to how far he can hit the ball and how often, and we’ll find out a lot about him this year.
2nd Base: Tony Wolters- this was a tough call, with Jose Ramirez having a lot of potential for the future. Both Ramirez and Wolters are smaller second basemen who embody the term “grit” and “grind” rather than “tools”. Ramirez has the potential to be another Jose Altuve and while I think there’s a lot of reason to be excited about his future, Wolters’ skill set might make him a better candidate to be a regular someday. He has good range at second and shortstop, though both his arm and range would play better at second. Wolters makes contact at a high rate and while he isn’t a burner on the bases (or at least not as fast as Ramirez) he is capable of swiping 20 bags. He could end up being an average regular or at least a utility man. I still feel Ramirez has the higher upside, defensively and offensively, but Wolters has a higher chance of reaching his potential.
3rd Base: Giovanny Urshella- this is one position in the minors that the Indians are woefully thin at. Joey Wendle is next behind Urshella, but he’s about to begin his first full pro season and will turn 23 in April. With Lonnie Chisenhall hoping to entrench himself at the position for the foreseeable future, the Indians have time do stock a little at this position. Dorsyss Paulino could eventually wind up at third base but that’s far off at this point. The Indians have seen Kyle Bellows fail to stay healthy, Jared Goedert moved to the outfield and now out of the organization. Matt Whitney at one time was a very exciting prospect but also went through some serious injuries that put him out of baseball. This is one position the Indians have just never been able to develop, not since Jim Thome, anyway.
But, back to Urshella; his power and strong glove are his best assets. His footwork and conditioning at third have really improved over the last two seasons and he has a great arm at the position too. He’ll play all season at the age of 21 and will likely open at Akron. The biggest issue for Urshella right now is his plate discipline. He only struck out 60 times in 2012 but only walked 16. The pitching in the Eastern League will expose any holes in his swing, especially if doesn’t already walk a lot. It could be that Urshella is a high contact type of hitter and it certainly was encouraging that he spiked his batting average to .278 in the Carolina League (typically a pitchers league) from .238 in Lake County in 2011. Certainly could be a big year for him.
Shortstop: Francisco Lindor- while Dorsyss Paulino is no longer an unknown commodity among Indians prospects, Lindor to me is still far and away the better prospect. Paulino can hit, but that’s about it right now and at 18, he’s still so far away from being able to project.
We know what Lindor provides; potential Gold Glove defense, 10-15 home run power, handful of stolen bases and a relatively high batting average. As much as I hate player comparisons, his skill set and potential could rival that of Elvis Andrus. Don’t be shocked to see him in Akron this coming season at some point later in the year. Now that he has a full season under his belt, his maturity could allow him to rise up the latter a bit faster this year.
Outfield: Tim Fedroff- as far as outfield goes, instead of listing left field, right field, centerfield; I’ll just take the best three outfield prospects. Fedroff isn’t going to be a splashy pick among Indians outfield prospects, because his overall potential impact isn’t that high. But what he has shown is consistency to make contact to all fields and fill in nicely at all three outfield spots. His future is likely as a fourth outfielder or a second division starter, but at this point, there’s less question about whether he’ll be a major league outfielder. It’s just a matter of where, because it’s not likely to be in Cleveland at this point.
Outfield: LeVon Washington- Washington has fought a hip injury the last two seasons, so the pick here is clearly based more on tools and potential than development. When healthy, WASHTIME offers all of the skills you want in a leadoff hitter; blazing speed, aggressiveness on the bases, good eye at the plate and high on base potential. It doesn’t hurt that his speed is still good enough (after hip surgery) to keep him in centerfield. He’ll have to prove he can stay healthy this year and show that the time he’s missed hasn’t rusted his skills. The Indians are weak in terms of high impact potential in the outfield, so there’s still a lot of reason to watch out for Washington and a lot of hope for his future.
Outfield: Jordan Smith- this was a tough pick as well, more so from the fact that again, the Indians lack impact potential outfielders. Delvi Cid is extremely fast, but struggles to get on base. Bo Greenwell is a nice player, but can’t stay healthy. So that leads us to Smith.
Most people will point out that Smith turns 23 this summer and will likely be playing at High-A Carolina, which is a concern for many among prospects. But his age might be helping him. Smith shows an extremely mature approach at the plate. He’s patient, can hit the breaking ball and can hit the ball where it’s pitched. He’s also an exceptional athlete, transitioning from third base to outfield full time in 2012 nicely and has a pretty nice throwing arm.
Smith has hit for a high average his first two pro seasons so the hope right now is that his gap power (43 doubles in his first two seasons) develops into more over-the-fence power. One Midwest League manager last year compared his progression and tools to a young Carlos Lee or Magglio Ordonez. The Carolina League is usually more friendly to pitchers and at that level, the more elite arms have better breaking ball location so if Smith continues to progress at that level, there’s a lot to like about his future.
Bench- C: Monsalve; many scouts are high on his defensive skills and like his 6’2 225 frame. Still has the chance to develop at AA-Akron this year if he winds up jumping Roberto Perez on the depth chart. Don’t be shocked if he comes up in trade rumors this year. He was rumored to be in the trade last year that was supposed to bring Shane Victorino to Cleveland.
Utility: Jose Ramirez; because I took Wolters as the top second base prospect, Ramirez is right behind him. He can play short and second with great range at both. His arm is better suited at second. If you get the chance to see Lindor/Ramirez as a double play combo in 2013, you’d be doing your eyes a favor, they are extremely fun to watch together, especially at 1-2 in the lineup too.
4th Outfield: Jordan Henry- Henry is kind of a Fedroff-lite. He doesn’t hit for quite as high an average and has even less power. However, he can play all four outfield positions and has incredible bat control, also good speed. Perfect fit for a fourth outfielder. I almost went with Bryson Myles here because of his potential, but given his age and where he’s at developmentally, it’s very hard to know when and if he reaches his potential.
Later this month, we’ll build the pitching side of the Indians all-prospect team.