KATOH Projects: Cleveland Indians Prospects

Previous editions: Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cincinnati .

Earlier this week, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the Cincinnati Reds. In this companion piece, I look at that same Cincinnati farm system through the lens of my recently refined KATOH projection system. There’s way more to prospect evaluation than just the stats, so if you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read Dan’s piece in addition to this one. KATOH has no idea how hard a pitcher throws, how good a hitter’s bat speed is, or what a player’s makeup is like. So it’s liable to miss big on players whose tools don’t line up with their performances. However, when paired with more scouting-based analyses, KATOH’s objectivity can be useful in identifying talented players who might be overlooked by the industry consensus or highly-touted prospects who might be over-hyped.

Below, I’ve grouped prospects into three groups: those who are forecast for two or more wins through their first six major-league seasons, those who receive a projection between 1.0 and 2.0 WAR though their first six seasons, and then any residual players who received Future Value (FV) grades of 45 or higher from Dan. Note that I generated forecasts only for players who accrued at least 200 plate appearances or batters faced last season. Also note that the projections for players over a relatively small sample are less reliable, especially when those samples came in the low minors.

1. Willi Castro, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 3.9 WAR
Dan’s Grade: Unranked

Castro held his own last season as an 18-year-old in the New York-Penn League. The Puerto Rican shortstop struck out in just 10% of his trips to the plate, which resulted in a respectable .264/.304/.330 batting line. His 20 steals are also a point in his favor. Castro’s lack of power suggests he’ll never be a star, but his other skills suggest he might at least be a future big leaguer. Statistically speaking, Castro looks a lot like Asdrubal Cabrera did at that age.

Willi Castro’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Mike Caruso 3.4 1.7
2 Jose Lopez 3.8 5.9
3 Asdrubal Cabrera 3.1 14.0
4 Edgar Tovar 4.8 0.0
5 Jesus Garces 2.6 0.0
6 Manny Mayorson 2.7 0.0
7 Albenis Machado 2.7 0.0
8 Jorge Cantu 4.8 5.6
9 Julio Lugo 2.1 8.0
10 Joe Thurston 1.6 0.2

2. Francisco Mejia, C (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 3.8 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

Mejia hit .243/.324/.345 (99 wRC+) as a 19-year-old in Low-A last year. That alone was an impressive accomplishment, as relatively few teenagers are are able to contend with pitchers in full-season ball. It’s even more impressive that Mejia did so as a catcher. Mejia’s still years away from the majors, but the early signs are encouraging.

3. Bobby Bradley, 1B (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 3.7 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45+ FV

Thanks to the surfeit of immobile sluggers on the planet, a first baseman really needs to hit to be worth much more than replacement level. As a result, KATOH rarely gives favorable projections to first-base prospects unless they’ve really set themselves apart offensively. Bradley did just that last year by belting 27 homers and slashing .269/.321/.529 in A-Ball. On the downside, Bradley struck out in an appalling 32% of his plate appearances. That’s very bad, but it’s largely outweighed by his power output relative to his age.

4. Bradley Zimmer, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 3.7 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 65 FV

Zimmer put up monster numbers in three months in High-A last year. He hit .308/.403/.493 in 78 games and kicked in 32 steals for good measure. Things didn’t go as swimmingly in Double-A, where he only managed a.219/.313/.374 triple-slash down the stretch. There’s a lot to like about Zimmer, but his strikeout numbers and overall Double-A performance are red flags. It’s worth noting, however, that he finished the season with a hairline fracture in his foot, which may help explain his late-season struggles.

Bradley Zimmer’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual.WAR
1 Kevin Belcher 3.9 0.0
2 Sean Henry 2.8 0.0
3 Terrence Long 4.9 5.1
4 Brandon Jones 3.1 0.1
5 Rene Tosoni 2.2 0.0
6 Glenn Murray 3.3 0.0
7 Mike Restovich 4.0 0.3
8 Alex Escobar 4.7 1.7
9 Aaron Cunningham 2.4 0.8
10 Jason Conti 3.2 1.2

5. Ivan Castillo, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 3.4WAR
Dan’s Grade: Unranked

Castillo is somewhat similar to the Indians’ top projected prospect, Willi Castro. Like Castro, Castillo is a punchless shortstop who held his own against much older competition. Castillo isn’t sexy, but he possesses a compelling combination of contact ability and speed. Players like him often turn into big leaguers.

6. Justus Sheffield, LHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.9 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 50 FV

Sheffield’s first pro season was a very successful one. He spent all year in Low-A, where he turned in a 2.99 FIP over 26 starts on the strength of a 25% strikeout rate. As a pitcher who’s still a few years from the big leagues, Sheffield carries a lot of risk, but the early statistical signal is very positive.

7. Erik Gonzalez, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.5 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45+ FV

Gonzalez split last season between Double-A and Triple-A, where he hit .261/.296/.392 as a 23-year-old. By itself, that isn’t particularly impressive; but for a shortstop who also possesses speed, it kind of is. Gonzalez doesn’t have a ton of upside due to his lack of power, but considering he’s already held his own in the high minors, he has a strong chance of being at least a utility infielder.

8. Clint Frazier, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 1.7 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 60 FV

Frazier has demonstrated exciting power and speed since the Indians took him in the first round in 2013. However, he’s complemented those attributes with elevated strikeout rates, which weigh down his projection. On the bright side, Frazier’s strikeout rates have been trending downward as he’s risen through the ranks. If that trend continues at Double-A, KATOH will undoubtedly warm up to Frazier. For now, however, KATOH sees too much risk in his profile.

Clint Frazier’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual.WAR
1 Dee Brown 1.8 0.0
2 Brent Clevlen 1.3 0.6
3 Ben Johnson 1.3 0.8
4 Matt Allegra 1.0 0.0
5 Jon Hamilton 1.1 0.0
6 Rickey Cradle 0.9 0.0
7 Alex Romero 1.9 0.0
8 Ryan Langerhans 1.4 4.7
9 Jarred Ball 0.8 0.0
10 Nick Markakis 0.8 19.6

*****

1-2 WAR Players
Rank Name Pos KATOH WAR Dan’s FV
9 Mark Mathias 2B 1.7 50
10 Yu-Cheng Chang SS 1.6 40
11 Dorssys Paulino OF 1.6 Unranked (Cistulli’s Guy)
12 Rob Kaminsky P 1.5 50
13 Tyler Naquin OF 1.3 45+
14 Ryan Merritt P 1.3 40+
15 Luis Lugo P 1.3 45
16 Jesus Aguilar 1B 1.2 40
17 Mike Clevinger P 1.2 50+
18 Adam Plutko P 1.2 45
19 Nelson Rodriguez 1B 1.2 40+
20 Eric Stamets SS 1.1 Unranked
21 Shawn Armstrong P 1.1 45
22 Yandy Diaz 3B 1.1 45
23 Anthony Santander OF 1.0 Unranked
24 Shawn Morimando P 1.0 40
25 Greg Allen OF 1.0 45
26 Yonathan Mendoza SS 1.0 Unranked

Mike Clevinger pitched very well in Double-A last year, but did so as a 24-year-old, which makes his performance a bit less exciting. Mark Mathias hit a solid .282/.382/.408 in his pro debut in the New York-Penn league last year, but KATOH would have preferred to see a bit more from a 21-year-old college bat. As always, full-season will be the real test. Although he was just 20 years old, Rob Kaminsky pitched exceptionally well in High-A last year. However, KATOH’s always skeptical of pitchers in the low minors with mediocre strikeout rates. Tyler Naquin’s raw numbers have been impressive, but they’re less impressive coming from a player who turns 25 in April. Considering his age, lack of defensive value and roughly 20% strikeout rate, major league success is no guarentee.

Eric Stamets makes a lot of contact, plays shortstop and runs well, but can’t hit a lick. Yonathan Mendoza is a poor man’s Eric Stamets. Anthony Santander showed decent pop in full-season ball. Although he narrowly missed the 1.0 WAR cut, I feel I should mention 2015 fifth rounder Ka’Ai Tom, who graded out well according to my attempt at projecting college players. Tom checked in at just 0.8 WAR after he hit for an unremarkable amount of power in his pro debut in Short-season A-Ball. His height (5-foot-9) also hurt his projection. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if he succeeded in full-season ball next year.

*****

Remaining 45 FV Prospects
Player Position KATOH WAR Dan’s FV
James Ramsey OF 0.7 45
Luigi Rodriguez OF 0.4 45
Mike Papi OF 0.2 45

James Ramsey has had some success at Triple-A, but is already 26 and strikes out a ton. Luigi Rodriguez is in a similar boat as a 23-year-old who’s untested above A-Ball. Mike Papi draws a lot of walks, but walks aren’t overly predictive for A-Ballers. Meanwhile, his contact and power  numbers have underwhelmed.

We hoped you liked reading KATOH Projects: Cleveland Indians Prospects by Chris Mitchell!

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Meji’a slash line: 243/.324/.345 is a 99 wRC+? The Midwest League must be a hell of a pitcher’s league.