2013 in Review: Minors
Players: SS Francisco Lindor • C Tony Wolters • RHP Mitch Brown • SS Dorssys Paulino • OF Tyler Naquin • 2B/SS Ronny Rodriguez • OF Luigi Rodriguez • OF LeVon Washington • RHP Cody Anderson • OF Clint Frazier • RHP Trevor Bauer
2014 Preview: Minors
Before going into the 2014 list, I'd first like to examine what constitutes success at an age-appropriate level. And to do that you have to look backwards, not forwards.
Why care about the minors?
The goal of every minor-league system should be at the very least to produce major-league regulars. Under the current MLB salary structure, you get way more bang from your buck from pre-free agent talent rather than post-free agent talent (and I'm including all players with more than six years of service time in this last category. To use an example currently in the news, the Dodgers got 32.2 WAR from Kershaw's first six seasons (5.105 years of service time), and paid him $19.84M. Starting in 2014, they'll be paying him, assuming the numbers being thrown around in the media reports are accurate, over $30.0M per season. Kershaw is a legitimately great pitcher, so even at that salary the Dodgers will probably be getting their money's worth, but think about what they were getting from him from 2008-2013.
To use a more applicable example: this winter the Indians signed Daniel Murphy to a two-year, $12M contract to be their starting right fielder. In today's free agent market, that's chump change, but that two-year deal is more than the Indians (and Red Sox) have Justin Masterson his entire five-year major-league career. Jason Kipnis in 2.5 seasons (11.0 bWAR) has made just under $1.0M. Michael Brantley in almost four seasons of service (6.6 bWAR) has made $1.8M. And so on. Once a player gets a couple seasons from free agency, his salary will start to ramp up, but until then, the club gets tremendous value from their first 3-4 seasons in the majors.
And the small and middle market clubs almost have to have a productive minor-league system to consistently stay competitive. Otherwise they have a small window of contention followed by several years of rebuilding, as we have experienced. Both of the 2002-2003 and 2008-2009 teardowns came as a direct result of the team not developing enough young talent to make up for the losses of their established stars to free agency.
So as a fan of the Indians, who I'd classify as a middle market club, you should at least pay attention to the teams' best prospects, because those prospects will determine whether the Indians compete or if they are trading away players in 2016-2017.
Breaking down Prospects That Matter
However, there is a limit to the amount of time you can spend following minor-leaguers. It's one thing to know 3 or 4 top prospects in the organization, and it's quite another to know the top 20 to 30 prospects in an organization. As you saw previously, most publications list 10-20 prospects in each organization, but each organization is built differently. In some organizations the talent depth is such that 5-7 of those players go on to have meaningful major-league careers, and in others perhaps only one of those players becomes a regular. That's where the idea for Prospects That Matter came from. It is an attempt to weed out the prospects that are likely contributors from those that aren't. It is not a foolproof (as you'll soon see), but I think the idea is worth pursuing.
Here are the guidelines for inclusion:
PTM attempts to identify: Which guys are the most likely to contribute to the Indians winning a pennant? Which guys are going to contribute the most, and which guys are going to contribute the soonest? To that end, the PTM player must meet one of these criteria:
- In Triple-A: succeeding at age 25, solid at 24, or younger.
- In Double-A: succeeding at age 23, solid at 22, or younger.
- In High-A: succeeding at age 21, solid at 20, or younger.
- In Low-A: succeeding at age 19, solid at 18, or younger.
- In short-season leagues: solid at age 17 or younger.
There are three components: age, level, and success. The first two (age and level) are cut-and-dry. Taken together, they give you a window into how an organization feels about a player. For example, in 2013 Francisco Lindor spent much of the season as one of the youngest players in the Carolina League. Just by virtue of playing at that level at a young tells you that the Indians think he's a special player. The third component (success) is the difficult piece. How do you define success at the minor-league level, especially at lower levels? Perhaps a player is changing his stance at the plate. Perhaps he's playing a new position and that's carrying over to the plate. Perhaps a pitcher is concentrating on one of his secondary pitches, throwing them when he'd normally throw his fastball. That's one of the limitations of trying to rely on minor-league statistics: sometimes they hide what's really happening.
2013 Prospects That Matter Review
Going into last season, I identified 22 players in the system that met the Prospects That Matter criteria:
(ages are 2013 ages, level is starting 2013 level)
- RHSP Trevor Bauer - 22, AAA
- SS Francisco Lindor - 19, A+
- SS Dorssys Paulino - 18, A-
- RHRP Cody Allen - 24, MLB
- SS Ronny Rodriguez - 24, MLB
- C Yan Gomes - 25, AAA
- 3B Giovanny Urshela - 21, AA
- LHRP Scott Barnes - 25, AAA
- 2B Jose Ramirez - 20, AA
- RHRP Scott Armstrong - 22, AA
- RHSP Mitch Brown - 19, A-
- RHSP Danny Salazar - 23, AA
- CF Luigi Rodriguez - 19, A-
- LHRP Giovanni Soto - 22, AA
- C Tony Wolters - 20, A+
- LHSP T.J. House - 23, AA
- RHRP Trey Haley - 23, AA
- SS Juan Diaz - 24, AAA
- LHP T.J. McFarland - 24, MLB (BAL)
- RHP Hector Rondon - 25, MLB (CHC)
- IF Cord Phelps - 25, AAA
- 1B Jesus Aguilar - 23, AA
Rather than spend time breaking down the obvious selections (Lindor, Allen, Bauer, etc), I want to give you my reasons for including the borderline players. Some players that were included had outstanding seasons, but some flunked completely out of the organization.
As an 18-year-old in Arizona, Brown had a high strikeout rate (8.5) and a low hit rate (6.5). However, he wasn't able to make the jump to Lake County and ended up back in Arizona. In retrospect Brown shouldn't have been eligible for inclusion, as I bent the rules, giving him credit for his level without rating for him to have success at it. He was removed in the mid-season ratings. From a scouting standpoint he still has the tools to become an excellent starting pitcher, but I jumped the gun on including him in 2013.
Salazar was a somewhat difficult selection because he hadn't pitched much in the past couple of seasons. He had thrown a total of 87.2 innings in 2012, with only 34 innings at AA, and with strict pitch counts. So he wasn't facing batters three times in a start, never mind four times. As it turned out, Salazar's 2013 went spectacularly well, from his dominance in AA and AAA to his electric major-league debut to his importance to the Indians down the stretch.
As a 19-year-old in Lake County in 2012, Rodriguez hit .268/.338/.406, which I classified as success (though barely). He missed a large chunk of the season with injuries, but in his limited playing time showed some promise in Carolina. Note that he played left field with the Mudcats as Tyler Naquin was also in the same outfield.
I gave him credit for his solid season in AA in 2012 as a starter (8.2 H/9, 7.4 SO/9). He pitched only 8.2 innings in 2013, and those innings were mostly in relief.
Decent 2012 in Carolina, and was moving left on the defensive spectrum. Repeated Carolina in 2013, improving a bit on his batting line, but more importantly, proved that he'd be able to stay behind the plate.
Durable pitcher who had been moving up the system slowly but surely. Unspectacular rates, but I thought he was worth including because he averaged 5.2 innings per start in 2012. Was promoted to AAA early in the 2013 season, threw 141.2 innings in Columbus, and so should be poised to serve as a legitimate MLB option in 2014.
Included because of consistently missing bats throughout his career, and his addition to the 40-man roster the previous winter played a part in the decision. He ended up repeating Akron, walked 8 batters per 9 innings, and was outrighted last month. Whiff.
Oof. I added him because he'd always been young for his level, and had already made the majors. He put up a combined .743 OPS between AA and AAA in 2012. But 2013 was a complete disaster, as he .242/317/.347 in Columbus, and was passed over when the Indians needed a middle infielder. Outrighted in early September, Diaz is a minor-league free agent. Big whiff.
Both were selected in the Rule 5 Draft, and both stuck with their drafting clubs, meaning that they are now officially out of the organization. McFarland, like House, had put up rather mediocre rates but had been durable. Rondon had struggled to stay on the field, throwing only 41.2 innings from 2010-2012. But his talent had never been an issue.
Going into his sixth professional season, and finally met the age and level criteria. Still, I was on the fence with him, as although he'd always put up solid lines, there was nothing that really stood out. And for a first baseman, his bat was going to be what would carry him to the majors. He had another solid season in 2013, and has been on fire in Venezuela this winter (.327/.403/.597 in 226 AB).
Next Up: The 2014 Prospects That Matter