For all of the negativity that the Cleveland Indians have taken for their failed drafts over the last decade (including such busts as Michael Aubrey, Jeremy Sowers, Trevor Crowe, and Beau Mills), they have rebounded in recent seasons by turning Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, the club’s 2009 and 2010 first round picks, into Ubaldo Jimenez. While that hasn’t really worked out in the Indians’ favor (Jimenez is just 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA since joining the Tribe), the fact remains that Jimenez was one of the most coveted arms in baseball at the 2011 non-waiver trade deadline, and without solid pieces, the Indians would not have been able to acquire the 2010 All-Star.
Today, the Indians have built a solid club through smart trades (Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez, anyone?) and solid free agent signings this winter in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Looking a bit further out, though, the Tribe suddenly has a tremendous amount of depth up the middle in their minor-league system, but who should fans be excited about? Is there a prospect that could change the club’s future, potentially arriving together with another budding star, like the Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome arrival circa 1994, to take the Indians to another level?
So, who is the better prospect for the Indians? Who is worthy of all of the hype?
Player A was very impressive in an extremely small sample size at the age of 17. As an 18-year-old, he showed excellent plate discipline, solid speed and solid gap power in full season ball while most 18-year-old kids were playing their senior year in high school or planning for their prom.
Player B was extremely impressive as a 17-year-old in short season ball, with a brief trial in full season ball. To display the kind of power that he did as a 17-year-old is absolutely freakish, and he seemed to fill the box score with gap power, raw power, speed, and solid-but-not-spectacular plate discipline. A 1.015 OPS is nothing to turn your nose up to, especially in a player’s first experience in America.
Player A is the Indians’ No.1 prospect, rated No.14 in all of baseball by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, Francisco Lindor. Player B is the Indians’ No. 3 prospect, unranked in Mayo’s Top 100 prospect list, Dorssys Paulino.
Lindor was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, receiving a $2.9 million signing bonus, as the Tribe lured him away from Florida State. Paulino was an International free agent, signing for $1.1 million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in July of 2011.
Needless to say, the Indians did a nice job with shortstop depth in 2011 between Paulino and Lindor; however, only one of them can play short long-term. Looking at defensive statistics, which are limited in the minors, you can see below who should probably stick at shortstop:
At 5’11”, 175 pounds, Francisco Lindor doesn’t have the frame of a mashing, potential slugger, but he does have the skill set to be a very valuable asset to the Indians. Lindor’s minor-league range factor and fielding percentage would allow him to make a stronger case to become an everyday shortstop; however, Paulino’s 6’0″, 175 pound frame is also a fit at short, and while he hasn’t been an excellent fielder, he could make adjustments to become better as he matures. After all, Paulino did have nearly ten times as many chances as a 17-year-old than Lindor.
Considering the Cincinnati Reds were able to acquire Shin-Soo Choo for Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorius, the Indians are sitting pretty. Gregorius was a career .265/.317/.370 hitter with a .947 fielding percentage at shortstop, which was good enough to be the centerpiece of a trade and Jonathan Mayo’s No. 63 prospect prior to the 2013 season.
While Paulino could end up hitting for enough power to be moved to third base, or mature physically enough to become a slugging outfielder or solid, offensive-minded second baseman, right now, he is a completely overlooked piece to the puzzle in a dynamic Indians farm system. The club has Lindor, Paulino, Ronny Rodriguez, Jose Ramirez, Jorge Martinez, and Tony Wolters (since moved to catcher), all ranked in the team’s top 20 prospects by Mayo, and they’re all middle infielders.
If I had to pick one out of Lindor and Paulino to build around, I’d rather keep Paulino. While his seven home runs don’t mean that he is going to hit 20, 30, or 40 when he matures, it is the same number that Miguel Sano hit in 2010 as a 17-year-old, and he is on his way to becoming one of the biggest mashers in baseball for the Minnesota Twins, having ripped 48 home runs the last two years, and he’ll be just 20 in 2013.
Imagine the Indians producing a middle infielder capable of that kind of production. After seeing the haul that the Reds and Indians were able to get for flipping around Gregorius this winter, why wouldn’t the Tribe sell Lindor with the market at such a peak? Not only that, but Paulino will be in Low-A, Mahoning Valley in 2013 as an 18-year-old, exactly what Lindor was last season. Asdrubal Cabrera is signed through 2014 and using one of the other, closer middle infield prospects, like Rodriguez, Ramirez, or even Juan Diaz in 2015, while turning Lindor into another potential ace like Trevor Bauer seems too good to pass up for a team that can’t seem to develop pitchers. So why not jump on it?