Top 15 Prospects: Cleveland Indians

Cleveland is an incredibly difficult organization to rank. The system is one of the weakest among the 30 MLB organizations and a lot of the talent is fairly new, having been acquired in the past few seasons. Trades (such as the questionable one for Colorado’s faltering ace Ubaldo Jimenez) and poor draft decisions have led to limited depth – especially in the upper levels of the system. To be fair, the big league club has also enjoyed the graduations of some key talents, such as Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis (both in 2011), and Carlos Santana (2010). The organization has filled some gaps with clever talent acquisitions via the international market. Out of all 30 organizations Cleveland had the biggest overhaul in Top 10 lists between 2010-11 and 2011-12 with Nick Hagadone as the only player that appears on both lists.

1. Francisco Lindor, SS
BORN: Nov. 14, 1993
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

Lindor was considered by many to be the top shortstop prospect in the 2011 draft and the Indians organization eagerly grabbed him up with the eighth overall selection. He offers strong projection with the bat despite his slender frame. Plus bat speed helps him generate surprising power for his size and it’s easy for scouts to project 20 home run power if he fills out as expected. The Puerto Rico native, who attended high school in Florida, is also a solid defender with good fundamentals for his skill level. He has sure hands, good actions and a quick first step that helps his average speed play up, which gives him above-average range. Lindor will play the entire 2012 season at the age of 18 so the organization may be cautious with him and start him out in extended spring training. He’s expected to reach low-A ball at some point during the coming year.

2. Dillon Howard, RHP
BORN: July 1, 1992
ACQUIRED: 2011 2nd round, Arkansas HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

Howard was easily the best 2011 draft-eligible prospect in the state of Arkansas thanks to a mid-90s fastball. The right-hander, though, was considered a tough sign away from his commitment to the University of Arkansas (thanks to his connection with the Boras Corporation, as well as the fact he would be eligible for the draft again as a sophomore) so he slid to the second round allowing the organization to essentially receive two first round draft picks (along with Francisco Lindor). Although he has a lot of potential, and could move fairly quickly through the minors for a prep draftee, there is not much projection left in Howard. Along with his heater, Howard’s repertoire also includes a slider, curveball, and changeup. There has been talk of ditching one of his breaking balls as both need a fair bit of work. He’ll likely open 2012 in low-A ball.

3. Nick Hagadone, LHP
BORN: Jan. 1, 1986
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 supplemental 1st round, U of Washington
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 10th

The former Red Sox draft pick has seen his pro career dampened by injury problems, including Tommy John surgery that essentially wiped out his 2010 season. The left-hander still shows good stuff, though, with above-average fastball velocity and ground-ball tendencies. Previously a starter, Hagadone moved to the bullpen on a permanent basis in 2011 and finally made his big league debut after five long seasons in the minors. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and his slider flashes plus potential at times. He’s struggled with his control throughout his career but pitching exclusively out of the stretch in ’11 appears to have helped him as he posted the lowest walk rate of his career in triple-A (2.79 BB/9). Hagadone, 26, has a good chance at breaking camp with Cleveland in 2012 and could develop into a high-leverage reliever.

4. Austin Adams, RHP
BORN: Aug. 19, 1986
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 5th round, Faulkner University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Adams has come a long way in a short period of time. The hard-throwing right-hander was a two-way player in college and did not focus solely on pitching until he turned pro. His stuff has blossomed as a result and he can reach triple digits on the radar gun. Adams is currently pitching out of the starting rotation, in an effort to sharpen his repertoire which also includes a slider, curveball and changeup, but he’s projected to pitch out of the bullpen in the Majors. Adams lacks premium size – coming in under 6-feet tall – and he struggles with his command at times. As well, both his curveball and changeup are below average. He could be a dominating high-leverage reliever if left to focus on his heater and slider. Adams will move up to triple-A in 2012 and could make his big league debut by the end of the year.

5. Chun Chen, C
BORN: Nov. 1, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Chen receives an aggressive rank from me because I have faith in his ability to stick behind the dish as an offensive-minded catcher. The right-handed hitter swings an underrated bat and possesses good power that could eventually provide 15-20 home runs. He shows good patience at the plate but can get too passive at times, letting good pitches go by while swinging at questionable offerings. He also struggles against good velocity and there is some concern that he possesses a “slider speed” bat. As a result, he saw his strikeout rate balloon in 2011, up almost 10% over 2010 to 26%. On defense, Chen struggles with his receiving and blocking but he does an admirable job with the running game despite an average arm. The Taiwan native could return to double-A to begin 2012 to work on his defense but he could see triple-A at some point.

6. Jake Sisco RHP
BORN: Dec. 9, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 3rd round, California junior college
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

Sisco is a “Scout Special.” He was an underwhelming California prep prospect who received little interest in the 2010 draft, although he was selected in the 37th round by the Giants. He headed off to junior college and caught the attention of the Indians scout when his fastball jumped from the mid-to-high 80s to the low 90s. It features excellent sinking action, which could help him produce above-average ground-ball rates. His repertoire also includes a promising slider, a curveball and a changeup. He has a big, strong frame and could develop into an innings-eater. Sisco should be assigned to low-A ball in 2012 where he’ll look to improve both his fastball command and his control.

7. Chen Lee, RHP
BORN: Oct. 21, 1986
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Another Taiwan signee, Lee throws from a low arm slot that helps him create deception with right-handed hitters. His heater sits in the low-90s and can touch 94-95 mph; it also shows good sink, which helps him induce a high number of ground balls. Lee has a potentially-plus slider but needs a changeup or splitter to combat left-handed hitters. As it stands, he will likely top out as a situational right-hander because he lacks a true weapon for left-handed hitters who batted .277 against him at triple-A (compared to right-handers at .194). He has always produced strong strikeout rates throughout his career. He whiffed more than 12 batters per nine innings in 2011 split between double-A and triple-A. Lee has plenty of high-pressure experience having appeared in both the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic and could make the big league club with a strong spring.

8. Ronny Rodriguez, SS
BORN: April 17, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Rodriguez is an intriguing, raw prospect. He attended school in both the Dominican Republic and the United States as an amateur and didn’t sign a pro contract until he was 18. The infielder has solid defensive tools, including a plus arm and good range, but he makes a lot of youthful mistakes. At the plate, he shows surprising pop and hit 11 home runs and 28 doubles in 98 games in 2011. He struggled to hit for average, though, because he’s too aggressive (13 walks all season) and swings at too many pitcher’s pitches. He has some speed on the base paths but is still learning the nuances of stealing bases. A repeat of low-A ball in 2012 could help slow the game down a bit for Rodriguez.

9. Tony Wolters, 2B/SS
BORN: June 9, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 3rd round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING:

Wolters turned his back on a commitment to the University of San Diego after the Indians made him a third round selection in 2010. He has a limited ceiling but could develop into a solid everyday player at second base. He has a repeatable swing and good bat speed that allows him to produce good gap power for his size. Wolters has a chance to hit for a solid average if he continues to use the whole field. On defense, he shows just average range at shortstop but makes up for it with good hands and a strong arm. He could probably play shortstop at the big league level but he cannot compete with Francisco Lindor so the keystone should be his eventual home. Wolters should move up to high-A ball in 2012 and his advanced approach could allow him to see time in double-A before the year is over.

10. Felix Sterling, RHP
BORN: March 15, 1993
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Soon to be 19, Sterling is a sturdy right-hander with a mid-90s fastball and promising changeup. His breaking ball remains a work-in-progress and he’ll have to stay on top of his conditioning as he already features a thicker lower half. Sterling needs to command his fastball better in the lower half of the strike zone, which will help him induce more ground balls. The organization has been cautious with Sterling thus far, keeping him from throwing more than 70 innings in each of his first two pro seasons. However, the kids’ gloves should come off in 2012 when he moves up to a prospect-laden low-A club.

The Next Five

11. Luigi Rodriguez, OF: Rodriguez is a very raw project but he oozes potential. He possesses plus speed and could eventually steal 40 bases in a full season. His over-aggressiveness gets the best of him at the plate and he’ll have to become more selective and patient as he moves up the organizational ladder. He probably won’t develop into a home run hitter but he has the potential to provide solid gap power. Rodriguez, signed as an infielder, is a raw defender but has considerable potential in center field.

12. Scott Barnes, LHP: I’ve been a supporter of Barnes over the past few years with some ridicule but he’s starting to turn doubters into believers and he’s surfaced on a number of well-respect Top 10 lists this off-season. Barnes is a left-hander who flashes above-average stuff for a southpaw but the inconsistencies are frustrating. He also missed time in 2011 due to a torn ACL in his knee. He should return to triple-A to begin 2012 but could be one of the first pitchers recalled.

13. Elvis Araujo LHP: Signed in 2007, Araujo missed two full seasons (2009 and 2010) thanks to injuries, including Tommy John surgery. He stands 6’6” but durability could be an issue. With a low-to-mid-90s fastball and promising slider, the southpaw could make an interesting late-game reliever, which could also help him move more quickly to catch up on lost development time.

14. Jesus Aguilar, 1B: Life is tough when you’re a right-handed hitting first baseman in the minors. You have to offer a lot of power projection to be taken seriously and Aguilar does just that. The Venezuela native has a massive frame and could hit 20-30 home runs at the big league level if he can develop as hoped. Outside of his power, though, his tools are limited as he’s both a poor base runner and an average-at-best fielder. He should open 2012 back in high-A ball but double-A will be the true test.

15. Zach McAllister, RHP: McAllister, a former Yankees prospect, may finally be ready to break through as a big league pitcher after spending the past six seasons in the minors, including two at the triple-A level. He has a huge, durable frame and could eat a lot of innings as a fourth starter. His fastball sits in the low 90s but the other three pitches in his repertoire are average at best. McAllister, 24, will head back to triple-A if he does not break camp with the Indians.

SLEEPER ALERT: Alex Monsalve, C: From Carlos Santana to Chun Chen to Monsalve, Cleveland is known for its offensive-minded catchers. He originally signed out of Venezuela for more than $700,000 and was a first-half all-star in low-A ball in 2011 before withering in the second half. The soon-to-be 20 year old has shown the ability to hit for a decent average and he has the size necessary to drive the ball a long way but he needs to use his lower half more effectively.

We hoped you liked reading Top 15 Prospects: Cleveland Indians by Marc Hulet!

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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No love for the Hogtown(Gainesville) OF duo of LeVon Washington and Tyler Holt?