Over the next month or so I will be releasing my top prospects list for the Cleveland Indians in the 2012 season. Rather than releasing the entire list all at once, the picks for my Top 15 will be announced one at a time here on Wahoo’s on First with a full profile for each player.
I don’t consider myself a scout. In the interest of full disclosure, I have never seen any of these players play with my own eyes. I simply judge each prospect based on my own interpretation of their statistics and various other scouting reports from official services.
Today, we kick off the series with the honorable mentions. Narrowing the list down to 15 names wasn’t easy. These five players just missed the cut.
Ronny Rodriguez, SS
Such low placement for Rodriguez might come as a shock. He was ranked as high as the third-best prospect in Cleveland’s farm system by Kevin Goldstein, yet I left him off my Top 15 completely.
Many scouts are high on Rodriguez after he skipped short-season ball completely and hit 11 home runs and stole 10 bases at Low-A Lake County at age 19. But I still see a large amount of red flags that make me skeptical of his pro debut.
Rodriguez’ .449 SLG is great for a shortstop, especially one who’s still a teenager. But the rest of his statistics don’t fare too well. His average was .246—just okay—but the big issue is that his OBP is only .274. I don’t expect a 19-year-old to have great plate discipline, but I expect more of a supposed top-five prospect than an 0.16 BB/K ratio. Rodriguez’s defense also concerns me; Baseball America rated him as having the Tribe’s best infield arm (even over Francisco Lindor), but he still committed 38 errors last year.
Am I being too critical on Rodriguez? Probably. He is a very raw prospect with plenty of tools, but I really want to see him capitalize on those tools some more. If he cuts down on his strikeouts and errors and walks a few more times, I would have no problem with pushing him up into my Top 15 next year. But I want to see something more first.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B
I’ve praised Aguilar in the past, but he is far from a finished product. Aguilar capitalized on a solid 2011 season that saw him slash .284/.359/.506 in Lake County and High-A Kinston by slashing .339/.458/.610 in 16 games in the Arizona Fall League (including a mammoth home run) and .275/.358/.478 in 22 games in the Venezuelan Winter League.
As a power-hitting right-handed first baseman he should certainly pique the interests of Cleveland fans, but the fact of the matter is that, at 21 years old, he has yet to play at Double-A and many question if he can play 1B in the big leagues. If Aguilar breaks through he would probably be a 23 or 24-year-old DH only player with solid power, nothing exceptional.
Optimistically, Aguilar would continue his hot streak, reach the big leagues sooner than that, and provide a nice powerful right-handed bat to push Matt LaPorta. But at this point such expectations would be a stretch.
Bryce Stowell, RHP
I’m a big fan of Stowell and his skill set as a reliever. He has a solid build (6’2,” 205 pounds) and his fastball has been clocked in the triple digits. Stowell also has a career 12.1 K/9 rate through three minor league seasons. All these things point to a guy who could easily be pitching in the eighth or ninth inning for a long time.
The issue is that Stowell just can’t get on the big league team. Injuries have been a big part of that: in 2009, his rookie year, he suffered from bicep tendinitis that made him start the year in extended spring training. Then came a mild elbow strain in August 2010 that ended his season early. Stowell entered 2011 healthy, but he lost a chance at a September call-up due to another elbow strain.
All those lost innings now means he is a 25-year-old who has pitched fewer than 20 innings above Double-A—and that was in 2010. Combine that with Cleveland’s bullpen depth and Stowell’s future is uncertain. If he can put in one fully healthy year he could prove to be a valuable asset. Until then, there aren’t any guarantees.
Giovanni Soto, LHP
Soto is a pitcher who really intrigues me. If his name sounds familar that’s because he was the player the Indians received from Detroit in the Jhonny Peralta deal back in 2010. (Or you could be thinking of Cubs catcher Geovany Soto.)
As a 6’3″ lefty, it would be nice if Soto could add on some more velocity to his fastball, which usually sits around 90. To do that he’d have to add on some weight as he’s only 180 pounds.
Overall, Soto’s statistics are solid, though nothing too special. In 11 starts and four relief appearances for High-A Kinston in 2011 Soto had a 3.23 ERA, a 9.0 K/9 rate, and a 3.0 K/BB. His walks are a tad bit higher than what you’d like (3.0 BB/9), but he boasts solid strikeout numbers to counteract that. And he doesn’t let the ball out of the park, as evidenced by the 0.5 HR/9 mark he holds after over two years in the minors.
Right now, Soto looks a borderline Major League option. At 20 years old and with a few starts at Double-A under his belt, he’s on schedule to reach the Majors by about 2014. If he can put on weight and add some ticks to his fastball, I like him as a left-handed fourth or fifth starter option for the Tribe down the road. If his K/9 rate goes up with his velocity, he could be a nice third starter in his prime.
Jason Knapp, RHP
Knapp is on here more because my last glimmering hope of optimism rather than his on-field accolades. That’s because he hasn’t been able to get on the field. Most Indians fans know Knapp’s name—he was supposed to be the biggest get from the Phillies in the Cliff Lee deal of 2009. Since then, all the Indians have got in return is depressed thoughts and a high medical bill.
When Knapp does pitch, he’s electric. As a 6’5,” 235-pound righty he has the perfect body of an ace. He has a plus fastball that sits in the 93-96 miles-per-hour range, and on one rare occasion that his shoulder was healthy he even hit 99 mph. Knapp also has a 12-6 curve that should develop into a plus pitch with time.
The problem is, time is not on Knapp’s side. He had bicep tendinitis when he was acquired, which developed into a larger issue that required arthroscopic shoulder surgery and ended his 2009 season early. The Tribe was cautious with him in 2010, as he made only nine starts. In 2011, more issues popped up and he was once again forced to get season-ending shoulder surgery.
It’s hard to imagine Knapp ever getting on the mound in Cleveland. If he is able to bounce back healthy in 2012 and can continue to develop, he could take a career track of Nick Hagadone (another promising pitcher whose chances at being a starter were derailed by Tommy John surgery) and develop into a good relief option.