This is the final installment of the 2010 Top Prospect series. Here is a full set of links to the other pieces.
2010 Top Prospect Series:
|The Down and Out||High Performing Hitters|
|High Performing Pitchers||(sort of) Interesting Hitters|
|Interesting Pitchers||Hitting Overview
The Indians had one of their better set of offensive performances in their system for awhile. Top prospects Lonnie Chisenhall and Nick Weglarz had solid seasons (though not without some injury concerns), while several emerging prospects - Chen, Kipnis, Phelps - had legitimate breakout years. Meanwhile a crop of former prospects led by Jared Goedert did enough to get their name in roster conversations.
Evaluating the success of the positional prospects is less of a challenge than the pitchers, because there is simply less of an injury/flameout possibility with hitters. Also, once established, a young positional prospect gives you a reasonable hope of 3-4+ years of relatively cheap stability at a position. So while the Indians do not have the depth of quality position players that they have of pitchers, this is not necessarily a problem. Having a few guys who have high quality skills at different positions in the high minors and few more in the low minors is really all you need. I think Cleveland has that, but not without a few obvious holes.
The Indians have struggled at developing corner OF prospects with above average offensive projections and above average infield defenders. The OF issue is particularly frustrating, because the team has actually spent quite a few high picks on outfielders.
Tim Fedroff, 5'11", 220, 21.5 (7th round, 2008)
- Bo Greenwell, 6'0", 185, 18.8 (6th round, 2007)
- Trevor Crowe, 6'0", 190, 21.8 (1st round, 2005)
- John Drennen, 5'11", 195, 18.9 (1st round sup., 2005)
- Roman Pena, 6'0", 190, 18.9 (10th round, 2005)
What all these guys have in common is relatively small frames, no history of plus power, and an inability to play centerfield. Power is one of the last tools to develop, so maybe one of the more difficult to identify in young prospects, but it should have been clear that power was not in the future of this crop. With the exception of Drennen, everyone in this group has a career GB-rate on their balls-in-play over 50%. These are small outfielders who don't get elevation on the ball. They're also not plus defenders. Why are we drafting these guys?
It is one thing to get good production out of traditionally defensive positions (catcher, CF, SS/2B), but that advantage is lost if you aren't actually getting even average production out of the corner positions. And as long as we keep filling our pitching staff with GB-heavy pitchers, we cannot ignore the systemic impact of defense. The last time the Indians drafted someone high in the draft that looked like a major league SS was Zach Sorenson in 1998.
Neither power or defense is something you expect 18-21 year old prospects to have fully developed. Certainly scouts can talk about the tools which might suggest development of above average defense or power, but you are unlikely to see those traits on full display in young players. The Indians failures to produce these kind of prospects cannot just be considered an issue of player acquisition, it must also represent an indictment of the Indians player development system. We always hear about plate approach and consistent baseball fundamentals when the Indians developmental program is discussed, but maybe the organization is missing a few things.
Finally, for a couple of years now I have commented on how boring the Lake County offense has been. This is in part a structural consequence of how the Indians use their system. Most of their top offensive draftees, who are 20-22, make their full-season debut in Kinston, bypassing Lake County altogether. The positional players who end up at LC are the low ceiling guys, or the younger acquisitions (HS draftees and international signings). So while the LC offense might naturally be somewhat weaker, it also reflects the Indians struggles at getting value out of low round positional draft picks and international signees. This is a problem. The outlook looks better next season, but when a minor league franchise goes through a several year stretch without anyone exciting on one side of the ball, that is a problem.
There are too many moving parts to get a really good single view of the Indians positional prospects, but the following table should provide something of a snapshot overview. Not all the entries are equally exciting. The big holes in my mind, as outlined above, are OF, power (DH/1B) and premium defensive infielders.