Chen's prospect status hinges on his ability to stay behind the plate. (from Photobucket, by Tony Lastoria)

Cleveland Indians 2012 Top Prospects No. 14: Chun-Hsiu Chen


As the offseason nears its end, we’re profiling the top prospects in the Indians organization. Today, we continue our countdown with No. 14: Chun-Hsiu Chen.

Catcher has become one of Cleveland’s strongest positions over the last couple years, which fairs very well for the Indians’ future as the organization’s young backstops could be nice trade bait once they fully develop.

Of all the Tribe’s promising catching prospects, the furthest along in terms of development is Chen.

Chen, originally from Taiwan, spent 2011 at Double-A Akron where he showed some strong power numbers while struggling with his plate discipline— he struck out 122 times while only walking 43 occasions. If Chen were playing a different position he wouldn’t have made this list. But since he plays a thin position like catcher, his ability to drive the ball with authority helps outweigh his strikeout issues.

In order to maintain his status as a promising prospect, he needs to get closer back to his 2010 production: he slashed an astounding .315/.404/.521 in 110 games between Lake County and Kinston two years ago. He also showed better plate discipline, drawing 55 walks against just 74 strikeouts.

Chen will probably find himself in Akron again in 2012, at least to start the year. I fully expect him to be promoted to Triple-A Columbus before the year is half over. If he can make adjustments to bring his strikeout numbers back down and raise his OBP as he progresses, he could be a really valuable asset for the Tribe in the high minors and would probably be the one dangerous MLB-ready bat they’ll have in Columbus. That is a big “if,” but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Chen is 23, which is a little bit older than what you would want your Double-A catcher to be. But since Carlos Santana will be handling the duties behind the plate for a while there is no need to try and rush Chen as he works on his plate discipline.

Santana’s presence  also raises the question of where Chen will play. That rides heavily on how his receiving skills improve—he was originally signed as a pitcher and third baseman and was converted to catcher once inside the organization. It’s not possible that Chen could continue to play catcher at the MLB level on days that Santana is off or playing first base; his presence could mean that Santana can spend more time at first base if that continues to be a weakness in the lineup. Another possibility is that Chen take over as the full time DH and part-time catcher in 2013, when Travis Hafner‘s contract expires.

He might not settle into the big leagues to stay until 2013 or 2014, and it could take even longer for him to become a real threat in the middle of the order. But he is a power-hitting right-handed catcher, and that’s definitely something Cleveland should be excited about.

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