With the slim pickings of baseball news during the All-Star break, many top prospect analysts take a second glance at their 2012 lists and update the top prospects in baseball. Among many are the likes of ESPN’s Keith Law, Baseball America, and John Sickels.
Like the pre-season editions, these lists aren’t flooded with future Tribe members, but there is one interesting trend. Francisco Lindor is flying up the boards.
The 2011 first-round pick is ranked highest by Law, who has him just outside the top 10 at 11th, but up from 35th in March. Law says that its unfair to call Lindor a “poor man’s Jurickson Profar,” a shortstop in the Texas Rangers’ system and was ranked number one overall by Law and Sickels, and second by Baseball America. Law also notes that Lindor’s eye and defense are his two strongest traits, and the main thing driving his hype train.
Baseball America has Lindor at 14th overall, up from 37th at the beginning of the year. Sickels still has Lindor lower than the rest at only 25th on his list, but he made a similar jump in the other lists as he was ranked 46th a few months ago.
So why has Lindor made such a huge leap in such a short period of time? Many may think it’s not because of his solid, albeit unspectacular slashline at Low-A Lake County of .263/.349/.370, but they would be wrong.
Fans need to keep in mind that Lindor is still only 18, and many his age are still in rookie ball, if not Short Season A Mahoning Valley. Lindor still has a 9.5 percent walk rate against pitchers two to three years older than him. His slugging seems low, but the power stroke will come and he should hit for nice doubles power.
Lindor is a very advanced batter for his age, and with another three years or so in the minors, he’ll easily be a top-10 or top-5 prospect by the time the Indians call him up, making him easily one of the most exciting prospects to come up to Cleveland since Carlos Santana.
What About the Rest?
Some may be wondering how other Indian farm hands faired, and the answer would be not very well. No Tribe players made Law or Baseball America’s top-50 lists or got an honorable mention. Sickels even put together a list of 120 prospects not including honorable mentions and no one in the Cleveland organization got a nod outside of Lindor.
Players who deserved some credit were Jesus Aguilar, who was the starting first baseball for the World team in the MLB Futures Game, 2012 first round pick Tyler Naquin (though BA and Sickels left 2012 draftees off their lists) and 2011 second round pick Dillon Howard.
Aguilar not even being on Sickels lists slightly surprised me, though there are still many things Aguilar needs to work on. He still is viewed as having below-average defense despite his recent progressions in the category, and while he has good power he doesn’t have power on par with top first baseman in the Majors. If Aguilar played a more valuable position he would get more recognition, but he will probably stay underrated through most of his minor league career. That doesn’t change the fact he could be the first baseman in Cleveland for awhile.
Naquin should see top-100 lists by the start of next season when analysts add in the 2012 draftees. Law included some who have signed in his mid-season rankings, but Naquin doesn’t have the upside of the ones he included. If Naquin can show he has the ability to stay in center field while he plays at Mahoning Valley this summer, he has a chance of cracking the top-75 on some lists. His slashline of .300/.417/.414 is also encouraging, though it is only 84 plate appearances. I would not worry about the lack of slugging, as Naquin is more of a patient gap hitter, evidenced by his .414 OBP. In terms of defense, reports are fairly positive especially when he shows off his throwing arm which is by far his best tool.
As for Howard, he still has a lot to work on. When I tabbed his as my second overall prospect in Cleveland’s system in March, I noted that he has ace potential, but that doesn’t mean it will come easily. He’s currently pitching in the rookie level Arizona League, and holds an ugly 5.79 ERA. Take this with a grain of salt though, as it’s only 14 innings and his 8.4 K/9 is encouraging and his 3.9 BB/9 acceptable for a 20-year-old in his first taste of pro ball. Howard’s potential still remains high, but his floor remains low. Until he shows more he won’t make any top prospect lists.