Earlier today, Geordy finished his overview of the current state of Cleveland’s farm system. But he’s not the only one who’s been thinking about Tribe prospects: last week, prospect guru John Sickels became the first big-name analyst of the offseason to offer his top prospect list for the Indians.
The Indians’ farm system obviously looks much weaker than it did last year, now that Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, and Vinnie Pestano are established MLB players and Alex White, Drew Pomeranz, and Joe Gardner are no longer in the system. So how does Sickels see the Tribe’s top prospects?
At first glance, the list looks bleak. No Indians prospects receive Grade A rankings—”the elite” (only 22 players in all of baseball got A’s or A-’s from Sickels last year)—and only three come in in the B range—players who “have a good chance to enjoy successful careers.” Everyone else on the Top 21 list gets a C+.
This shouldn’t be news to Tribe fans: the promotions and trades the Indians made in the last year has taken a large toll on the team’s quantity of blue-chip prospects. Moreover, Sickels is a self-described “tough grader,” and notes that a C+ is “actually good praise.” But still, it’s striking to see that the organization has such a low GPA.
Unsurprisingly, shortstop Francisco Lindor, the Indians’ first-round pick in the 2011 amateur draft, comes in at the top of the list with a B+ grade—using last year’s grades as a benchmark, that suggests Sickels sees him as one of the Top 60 prospects in baseball. Sickels predicts Lindor will be “a force at the top of the order” with “a slick glove” at shortstop, and notes that he will probably reach the majors faster than most of his fellow high school draftee peers.
Next is Dillon Howard, Cleveland’s second-round pick in last year’s draft. Sickels gives him a B- because he hasn’t had any professional experience yet, but calls him a “borderline B” (and notes that he could grade much better in the future) with “the body and the stuff of a number two starter.”
Infielder Tony Wolters comes in third and also gets a B- grade. Sickels praises Wolters’ plate discipline and speed and likes the idea of him combining with Lindor in a future double-play team, but it’s a sobering reflection on the organization that Wolters got the same grade yet came in 10th on Sickels’ list last year.
Placing fourth is Jake Sisco, the Indians’ third-round pick last year. He gets a C+ for his inconsistency, but Sickels says he “has a chance to be special.” After Sisco come 17 other C+-ranked prospects, whom Sickels says “could be listed in almost any order.”
Trades and promotions have depleted the farm system, but individual disappointments have taken their toll as well. Jason Knapp, who got a B grade last year, is now just an unrated honorable mention. Nick Weglarz, another B prospect in 2011, has fallen off the list completely. Last year’s B- prospects LeVon Washington and Nick Hagadone—both of whom, Sickels noted, had the ceilings of higher-pedigree prospects—are now down to C+’s. Chun-Hsiu Chen also fell from a B- to a C+, and Bryce Stowell fell from a B- to an honorable mention. These things happen, but they’d be easier to swallow if their devaluations had coincided with a few of their peers beating expectations.
But it’s not all bad news. Sickels says Tribe fans shouldn’t be discouraged by the lack of current top-tier talent:
While some of those C+s are future role players or relievers, the younger members of the group are high-ceiling guys who are just too raw or far away to get a higher grade just yet, but who could blossom within the next year or two. … The 2013 and 2014 lists could see a lot of those guys bumped up into the B-range (or maybe even higher) if they develop properly.
We’ll see how other prospect evaluators see the Indians’ system over the next few weeks and keep track of how the low-level possible stars develop in the minors over the course of the season.