I am initiating a new tradition at EHC which will be picked up periodically by myself as well as prospect writers Jim Pete and Steve Orbanek. The purpose will be to highlight whose stock is rising and falling in the Indians organization as well as who might be undervalued by conventional prospect valuation. As an addendum, in the coming weeks we will be laying out a new Indians Prospect Ranking system, which will be structured around tiers.
As a quick aside before I progress to the five up, three down section of Prospect Stock Watch, I want to briefly discuss the importance of tiers. Over the past decade, the en vogue concept when discussing prospects are top ten lists, a compelling but at times deceiving approach. This is because most top tens are not created equal, as the talent at the top of minor league systems is obviously variant. Thus, it is our assertion that top ten lists, and prospect ranking systems are acceptable if they are built around the idea of tiers, these tiers are established around quality of prospect and future impact level.
The final piece being this, credibility. Steve Orbanek, Jim Pete and John Grimm each brings different angle and experience to prospect coverage. Steve has written numerous profiles and covered the Indians minor league system from top to bottom for the past two years. Jim Pete has covered the Carolina Mudcats more closely than anyone else in Indians media, he has seen, and consumed more information about players that have moved through there, than I could dream of. As for John Grimm, he like myself has analytical chops, yet his mind exists in another stratosphere, and between the four of us, some insight as to the system may be found.
Digressing to today’s piece: I am not ranking prospects but rather highlighting first half performances that have significantly affected a player’s outlook or organizational expectation.
- Tyler Naquin: Naquin is a player who in the past I have been very critical of, or at least willing to voice my concerns over. However, Naquin has really addressed, and in small ways dispelled these fears, most important being plate discipline. While the batting average, which is staked to a high BABIP is positive, Naquins PD improvements is my reason for additional optimism. Moving from A+ to AA, Naquin has trimmed his K% from 22.5% to 20.8%, and shifted his BB rate from 8.3% to 8.5%. The ultimate outcome being a substantial improvement in his K/BB ratio as he went up a level. Against improved competition, Naquin has improved himself, which is a distinct positive. Defensively, scouts are confident in him as a league average defender in center with a plus arm. As Bourn’s aging curve begins to look like an exponential decline, Naquin’s improvements are a sight for sore eyes, and sore hamstrings.
- Joseph Colon: Colon is quickly becoming a really interesting MOR to BOR arm, due to his ground-balling abilities as well as solid control. His induction of worm-eaters while inherently useful has perhaps overvalued his step forward a bit this season. A few notes, Colon has seen both an increase in BB/9 and a decrease per K/9, which is a poor sign, though A+ to AA is a significant jump. Indeed, the Rubberducks defense and park is fairly suitable for a ground-ball pitcher. First, hitting home runs in Canal Park is particularly rare. Secondarily, Colon has mostly pitched in front of a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, in Lindor, a solid defender at second in Joey Wendle, for stretches a plus defender at third Giovanny Urshela and Ronny Rodriguez who is a quality defender as well. Ostensibly, a ground-ball pitchers dream. Thus, though I believe his stock has risen significantly with continued success, there are some warning signs of helium preparing to leave his balloon.
- Giovanny Urshela: With the explosion of Urshela’s bat this season it is hard to believe there is not more hype surrounding him. When you look at Urshela, watch him for more than three games, it is pretty clear that he is a plus defender, and that his bat is the only thing between him and a big league job. Thus the offensive improvements this season have really changed Urshela’s ceiling in my opinion. For a player with such a low strikeout rate, his 3% walk rates were always shockingly low, and really undermined his ability. However, this season that changed, his walk rate is sitting comfortably over 6%, elevating his OBP which married with a solid power tool makes him a valuable offensive player. In the big leagues Urshela projects to 17-23 homerun power with a solid OBP and above average defensive value. That player I just described is a 2-3 WAR player, perhaps more which makes Urshela’s rising stock an entirely fair assessment.
- Eric Haase: You simply cannot ignore the power behind the plate, Haase isn’t a special player or particularly dazzling but perhaps a top 20 prospect after this season. While just solid defensively, 20 homerun power has its value. Further, while his plate discipline isn’t overwhelming, it is competent enough not to be concerning. In A+ at the age of 21 he has been absolutely brilliant, posting a wRC+ of 138 and a slash line of .262/.337/.524.
- Ryan Merritt: The dude does not allow base runners, simple as that, in some small ways he is Tomlin-esque. Ryan just doesn’t walk people which keeps his WHIP very low. He does not strike out at as many as one would wish but he is not underwhelming in that regard either at 6.66 per nine. Merritt simply needs to face tougher competition at this point so he can face a real test. Akron is calling his name.
A few previously hyped middle infielders of great former promise will dominate this section.
- Ronny Rodriguez: Not long ago Rodriguez was mentioned in the same sentence as Jose Ramirez and Fransisco Lindor as big league caliber middle infielders, unfortunately his most cancerous flaws remain. He doesn’t get on base. This is incredibly simple but an unfortunate reality. Obviously, Ronny is just 22 years old and has time to improve but the clock is quickly fading on his prospect relevancy. How can you give priority to a guy who has never cracked a .25 BB/K ratio. Ronny has not repeated his or anything close from 2012, be it a little park reliant, Rodriguez needs to turn it around fast to have any priority in the system. My guess, he won’t.
- Dorssys Paulino: Once touted by Indians prospect guru Tony Lastoria as the best right handed hitting prospect since Manny Ramirez, as well as national talking heads Keith Law, and those at Baseball America, Paulino has stalled. A player whose abysmal defense and inability to find a position made him a bat first guy, hasn’t proven he has a bat. With a slash line of .230/.296/.318, one must question how long this guy will be considered any sort of prospect. Once again, he is young but he has shown little to lead us to believe that he will be anything of significance other than the hype of large prospect organizations.
- Jordan Smith: While Smith was never a top ten type prospect or a high priority guy, he was a legitimate prospect. Smith has never had an OBP below .367 prior to this season, progressing as an ideal fourth outfielder type, solid defender, good on base ability and quality competitor. Unfortunately, Smith has been overwhelmed in Akron be it a spiking strikeout rate which has leaped or a a bad luck BABIP, holding down his average, Smith is in trouble.