Reviewing the 2012 Indians Top Prospect Rankings

Both Baseball America and John Sickels released their top prospects lists in the last two weeks, and each offered a different look at the Indians’ farm system. When two so well-respected sources both offer their opinions, it raises some interesting questions: What did they agree on? How did they differ? And how did they do?

Obviously the farm system has seen better days. The talented prospects who excited us this time last year are now either on the big league roster or in Colorado. There are definitely bright days ahead as many of the Tribe’s remaining minor leaguers have high upsides and are still just teenagers, but it’s important to remember that the organization has had some bad luck with prospects in recent years.

Both Baseball America and Sickels are in consensus as to who the top two prospects in the organization are: Francisco Lindor and Dillon Howard, the Tribe’s first two picks in the 2011 MLB Draft. It’s hard to argue a case for anyone, as no other prospect in the system can come close to Lindor and Howard’s pedigree or upside.

Most years, I’d have a hard time calling either prospect the best in the organization because they’re both so inexperienced: Lindor has only five professional games under his belt and Howard has yet to lace his cleats for a minor-league team. If this was the 2011 list, I’d still put Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall ahead until I could really see what Lindor and Howard can do, but I like the Lindor and Howard have more upside.

With so few reliable prospects in the system, the two lists differ quite a bit after Lindor and Howard. While Baseball America prefers relief pitchers Nick Hagadone and Chen Lee, Sickels prefers shortstop Tony Wolters, the relatively safe pick, and Jake Sisco, who has quite a bit of upside as a starter.

Either way works. I see Hagadone and Lee as both being potential closers at the next level. Wolters doesn’t have the upside I would like to see in a top five prospect, but in a system this weak it’s hard to be picky. He’ll most likely play second base in the majorsand will be a perennial or 15/15 candidate in his prime; he has that gutsy play and baseball rat mentality that will make him a fan favorite. Sisco was considered a steal as Cleveland’s third round pick in the latest draft, as he was a sleeper coming from the JUCO ranks that made a real case for himself late in the season. He has second or third starter ability at the next level if everything pans out.

Both publications agree on the fifth best prospect: center fielder Luigi Rodriguez. The 19-year-old Dominican product had a big year for the Rookie-level Indians, where he batted .379/.408/.579 in 25 games. That got him promoted to Low-A Lake County where he failed to replicate those numbers and hit only .250/.320/.311. This is all a follow up to his great Dominican Summer League performance in 2010, during which he hit .301/.403/.461. Baseball America also rated him as the Indians’ fastest farm hand.

The issue that I have with Rodriguez is that he struggled once he got promoted to a full-season team. He is still raw and has time to develop, but I want to see how he fares in a full season at Lake County or Kinston before I consider him a top-five talent. He could rise quickly next year in my personal rankings if he proves himself there.

Baseball America and Sickels take different approaches as they round out their Top 10′s. The former prefers the safer route, picking some of the quality talent in the high minors with Zach McAllister, Austin Adams, Scott Barnes and Zach Putnam, with Wolters thrown in at the No. 7 spot for good measure. Sickels prefers the upside of some younger prospects while also throwing in some older guys in Hagadone, Barnes and Cord Phelps. He also throws in Elvis Araujo and Felix Sterling as the seventh and eighth best prospects.

In Baseball America’s bottom five, McAllister and Barnes are mid-rotation starters at best. Personally, I prefer Barnes’ (a 6’4″ southpaw) upside to McAllister’s, though both could be valuable assets if one of Cleveland’s starting five goes down this year. Adams is an intriguing talent at Double-A Akron. He is currently a starter with the ability to possibly hit triple-digits with his fastball, but the fact that he’s only 5’11 and he throws that hard makes me think he will eventually end up in the bullpen. As long as he’s a starter he’s a player to watch, but the fact that he’s 25 and has yet to pitch at Triple-A is a little disheartening. Putnam could be another quality bullpen product for the Tribe in the future.

Going back to Sickels’ list, Araujo and Sterling are two young arms from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, respectively. Araujo, a 20-year-old lefty, had a 3.36 ERA and 8.1 K/9 in rookie ball and short-season Mahoning Valley last year. He missed a lot of development time as he lost both the 2009 and 2010 seasons to Tommy John surgery. He’ll need to pick up the pace and turn some heads at Lake County or Kinston before I change my mind on him.

Sterling, 18, has already started to gain some traction as a top prospect at Lake County. Between Low-A and rookie ball in 2011 he put up a solid 4.12 ERA with a 8.8 K/9; that he posted such quality numbers and with a full season team at only 18 bodes well for the righty. He could be MLB-ready by the time he’s 21 or 22. The only question is: with all the depth they have, where will the Indians put him? They can take their time with him as there will certainly be some bumps in the road, but he is definitely one to watch as he rises through the ranks.

Two noticeable omissions from both lists are Nick Weglarz and Jason Knapp. Once both top prospects in their own right, injuries have derailed both once promising careers and any hope for them to recover should probably be thrown out. If Knapp ever makes it to the big leagues (which I doubt at this point, at least in a Cleveland uniform) it’ll be as a bullpen arm, as he still has the ability to get strikes.

Weglarz has a chance to be the second coming of Shelley Duncan as a bench bat with plus power, but from the other side of the plate. He probably can’t be counted on to ever play a full season in the majors, but the fact that he has experience at Triple-A bodes well for the 24-year-old’s future.

Whose prospect rankings are better?

  • John Sickels' (83%, 5 Votes)
  • Baseball America's (17%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 6

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Topics: Austin Adams, Dillon Howard, Elvis Araujo, Felix Sterling, Francisco Lindor, Jake Sisco, Luigi Rodriguez, Tony Wolters

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