Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thoughts for the day

Epic battle last night.   As the announcers said, it is hard to know what is more puzzling.  That Francona asked the players to bunt knowing how bad they were at it or that, in fact, they were so bad at it.   In any case, Kipnis is an average, at best, secondbaseman and his error was not a surprise, although we should never have gotten that far.   Francona putting in Belisle in to save the game was also unexpected.   Goody had looked strong the previous inning.  Why not let him finish?   It's not like he had never gone two innings before in his career.  In summary, the Indians kept trying to give the game to the Twins and, in the end, it worked.

In the minors the teams keep playing and keep putting up results but not a lot of surprises so far.  Here are a couple I have seen:

1. Bieber looks better than I thought he would.  I could see him pitching in Cleveland this year.

2. Mitch Brown seems to have found a niche in the bullpen.  I could also see him pitching in Cleveland this year, especially with my dark horse favorite to make his debut this year, Cam Hill, still on the shelf.

3. Adam Plutko.  Let's face it.  He needed to dominate this year at AAA or he was going to be labeled a AAAA pitcher.   He has dominated his last two times out and that is, to me, unexpected.   Maybe there is something there.

4. Conor Capel.  I have said many times that low A stats can be really misleading.   Guys who turn out to be organizational or AAAA players can look good, even at a young age, in low A.   So far Capel has looked like he is using his year at Lake County last year as his coming out party and is building on it with a solid, all-around start at Lynchburg.  He is hitting for average, power, showing good plate discipline and stealing bases.  Offensively, it's all there and as near as I can tell he is doing it defensively, too.  This guy could really be something if this trend continues.

5.Cal State Fullerton version of Justin Garza.   This guy was once considered a top prospect when he was in HS and college but injuries his junior year clouded that picture making him a lower draft pick.  Injuries also hindered him in his first two years with the Tribe.   His start to 2018 is looking really good as he has dominated high A.   Yeah, he is rather old for being a hot prospect in that league but his dominance is promising and if he DOES get promoted to AA and if he does well there, I could see him breaking the top 10 prospects next year.  He has that much potential.

6. Will Benson.   OK, there are lots of guys in the organization, some top prospects, performing better than Benson.   So why the love for him?  His K rate is down and, as a hitter, he is looking really comfortable and his tools are starting to show through.  He is surprising me with these things and they portend for him having a great year as it appears his maturity as a player is on the steep part of the learning curve and he is moving fast through that curve.

Now, there are many other players who are having great starts to their year. Sam Hentges, Aaron Civale, Oscar Gonzalez, Jorma Rodriguez, Eli Morgan, Ben Krauth and others are doing well.  However, in looking at their histories and taking into account it is early in the year and pitchers are generally ahead of hitters, especially in cold weather and hitters with poor plate discipline seldom succeed long term, I will wait for a while before I get excited about these guys.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Perspective

What else would you expect from a blog called Cleveland Indians Perspective?

So some random thoughts to put the season so far in, dare I say it, perspective.

1. Anyone who thinks the Twins are going away is, in my opinion, sadly mistaken.   For diehard Tribe fans the race between the Indians and the Twins will cause them to have a large infestation of gray hair, especially if second place teams in the AL East (probable) and AL West (not as likely but still possible) start putting up great records.

2. The starting pitching, right now in this snapshot in time, is performing at levels that even I can't believe.

3. The bullpen is holding together but I still am not sold on these guys, outside of Miller and Allen.  Still, so far they ALL look like we could have a solid, bullpen again.   Unless McAllister comes around, however, the 7th inning guy in the post-season may end up being dicey.

4. The weather has been so bad in the minors that it is hard to tell what is going on so far.  Still, the pitching has been outstanding in spots.   Bieber and Civale have been as advertised and that is a great thing as they don't appear to have missed a beat since over the winter into this season.  Plutko's start tonight was a good sign and I really think Zach Plesac is the sleeper prospect of the year.  I like Will Benson, too.   He has looked more relaxed and more mature this season and I expect him to put up big numbers as he continues up the steep part of his learning curve.  Again, though, numbers at low A, for some reason, can be deceiving as far as hitting goes.

5. We still need another right handed powerhitting outfielder.

6. If Naquin and Zimmer could only catch the lightning in the bottle from their hot ML starts two years ago and last year, repectively, and keep it going through the entire season this year, we would be looking more like the WS team from the AL.   But those are big ifs.

7. I was, and maybe still am, what the Yankees found last year with Lindor and Ramirez has been taken up by the rest of the league.   Both have showed life recently but it was really scary to watch the postseason last year and see essentially the same results the first two weeks of the season this year.  Let's hold our breaths and keep all of our fingers crossed that last postseason and the first two weeks of this season are purely coincidentally, non-related to reality, whatever that means.

8.  I wonder if baseball players (or their accountants, actually) have as little fun doing their taxes as I do?

9.  I didn't win the Megamillions jackpot....again...so I will be back here tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Thoughts for the first week of play

First, I don't think anyone is honestly worried about the Indians not making the playoffs at this point.

I will say, however, that feces does happen to teams who are supposed to be good.   If you don't believe that look at the San Francisco Giants last year.   64 wins?  Really?

So a total collapse is not out of the question.

However, aside from that, it's too early to be anxious.

That being said, the glaring weakness of lack of right-handed productivity in the outfield is stark.  Heck, the lack of ANY productivity in the outfield is stark.

We all knew the outfield coming into this season was this team's biggest Achilles heel.  But it is starting to look like we have a situation where every outfielder may have a worse case scenario offensive year.

Zimmer looks bad right now, but not unpredictably bad based on his track record and how he was rushed to the majors.  It is OK if one player on your team is defense first, especially if it is your centerfielder or SS.  So, we'll give the Indians this one.   But...

Guyer is looking bad.   Maybe it is his wrist still being not quite right.  However, right now, he is the worst I can imagine him being.

Chisenhall - You had to hope that this guy picked up where he left off before he was hurt last year.  However, it is starting to look like last year was his flash-in-the-pan year.  I hope I am wrong but so far he has acted more like a #9 hitter and we have one of those (Zimmer)

Davis - He is what he was two years ago.   Unfortunately this guy cannot afford to have Davis in the lineup with Zimmer and, if need be, Guyer.   Those are just 3 offensive holes and we haven't even started talking about the catchers yet.  I never hoped for more out of Davis than what he gave us two years ago and that would be OK if...

...Naquin looked better.   Unfortunately he still looks more like the 2016 playoff Naquin than the 2016 early season Naquin.

Brantley - So, the 5 outfielders above are all performing subpar.  This means that Brantley has to be the 2016 first half Brantley and not the Brantley immediately before and after that.   You say he was injured, do you?  Well, that is PART of what I am talking about.  If you don't produce because you are injured it is just as bad as not producing because you are overmatched.  In the end, without Brantley being the good version of himself, he only makes the situation worse.

So, by not trading for or signing a good RH hitting outfielder, we put our team in a hole.   I understand the small market realities but I think we are probably 5-1 with one good hitting OFer at this point.

Now let's talk Jose Ramirez.   We were able to overcome the OF issues last year because of Lindor and Ramirez giving us performance from middle infielders that you would not expect.  But now Ramirez has strung a bad, bad postseason along with an extremely bad first week of the regular season.   It's probably nothing but what if the league has figured him out and he doesn't have a gear to react (similar to where Naquin is now).  If I am unduly scared then please forgive me.  But after watching Carolos Baerga's performance nosedive suddenly in the 90s, forgive me if I am a little skittish on this one.  Mark my words.   When a team nosedives it has to have significant injuries and some unexpected terrible performances along with no one stepping up in an unexpected way to at least fill the gap.   That is what we are seeing with the 2018 Cleveland Indians so far.

Plus we still have to contend with the idea that Alonso is may really be a platoon player.   I can see giving him a pass and saying that last year's power was not a fluke.  However, saying that last year's power was not a fluke and that this guy would suddenly hit left handed pitching is way too much to hope for.  And what if the power is not there and he doesn't hit left handed pitching?  Well, Carlos Santana was not great but he was good enough not to create a hole in the lineup.  If Alonso doesn't hit for power and hit lefties at least a little bit, how can he help offset the offensive hole that is our outfield.

Yes, we are a small market team and we have to pick and choose how we spend the few dollars we have to spend.  But for that type of team to be successful they need to have a few pleasant surprises.  So far, I don't see those which is why Kluber has gone 15 innings and given up 4 ERs (2 total mistakes over two starts) and in the AL, is 0-1 with a no decision when he should EASILY be 2-0.

No need to panic.  Still, early results show that the Indians are wallowing in the bed that they made.  Let's hope they get out of bed and put on their hitting pants, even if it is one leg at a time!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Minor league rosters and the minor league disabled list and extended spring training roster

OK, the minor league season is about to start this Thursday and the composition of the rosters is leaking out.  Also, there is the minor league disabled list and the guys not making a full-season roster.  Let's take a look at all of it.

Guys not on full-season rosters

It is no surprise that 2017 HS draft picks like Quentin Holmes, Tyler Freeman, Jonathon Rodriguez, Michael Cooper, Matt Turner, Chandler Ferguson and Dante Mendoza did not make a full-season roster.   They are all so young and so early in their development curve that extended spring training is just where they needed to be.  Some of them, along with some of the Latin players who played in the AZL last year will no doubt play at Mahoning Valley this season but guys like Rodriguez, Cooper and the three pitches (Turner, Ferguson and Mendoza) will likely repeat in the AZL as none of them got many innings last year.

As far as other players who played in the organization last year who did not make a full-season roster, the most notable is Brady Aiken.  I think this is Brady's make or break year in this organization.  It is really prudent to make sure he is ready for this, his last, audition with the Indians.   Sounds harsh?  Maybe but I really feel he is a bust if he does not make progress this season.  They may keep him next year just to make sure but his upside goes out the window unless he dominates this year.  So it is best to make sure that he is ready physically, mentally and technically for his season before he is thrown into the deep end, so to speak.  The other significant players from rookie or short season ball who I did not see on a full-season roster were Henry Pujols, Dakody Clemmer, Skyler Arias, Mitch Reeves and Pedro Alfonseca.  I would expect to see all of these guys start the season at Mahoning Valley this year with the possible exception of Reeves, who may be the first outfielder called up in case of injury at Lake County or Lynchburg.

Guys on the minor league disabled list

Here is where life gets interesting.  Most are aware by now that dark horse prospect Julian Merryweather will miss the entire season due to TJ surgery.  That is bad enough.  However, Triston McKenzie being on the DL to start the season is a real blow.  Let's hope it is truly a precautionary move and there is nothing wrong that will derail this superstar-potential guy from his trajectory.

Besides McKenzie, including the major league DL, here are the significant prospects who are on the DL:

Ryan Merritt, Gio Urshela, Eric Stamets, Cam Hill, Josh Martin, Rob Kaminsky and Matt Esparza.

Other, lesser prospects on the DL include Connor Marabell, Jonathon Laureano, Ryan Colgate, Erick Algarin, Andrew Lantrip, Cesar Ventura, Josh Nashed and Jack Murphy.

Of these guys obviously McKenzie is the most concerning.  However, the depth that is being lost or that may be lost from the other significant prospects on the DL is considerable.   When it looks like our rotation at Columbus is likely to be some combination of Shawn Morimando, Adam Plutko, Adam Wilk, Stephen Fife, Robert Zarate and Alexi Ogando, you can see that, except for Danny Salazar, anyone we would need to call up from the minors as a starter would likely be among the bottom 5% of starting pitchers in the majors at the time they would be called up.   That is not a good thing.  We need to get Salazar healthy and keep Ryan Merritt on the roster or our depth at starting pitcher is just downright terrible, especially when you consider that dark horse candidates like Merryweather, Esparza, Kaminsky and Merritt are on the DL.

Full-season rosters and projections

Obviously minor league projections are controlled as much by inevitable roster moves as they are by injuries or opening day rosters.   That being said, here are my predictions for this year:

Columbus 62-82 - Really, only Mejia and Diaz make this team worth watching.   It will be interesting to keep an eye on the power numbers of Haase and Stamets, whether Nellie Rodriguez can reach his Jesus Aguilar potential and how Bobby Bradley does when (if) he gets called up.  Yes, Greg Allen is interesting but I am pretty sure what we have with him so, unless he suddenly becomes a 20 HR guy and keeps his other stats the same, I am not took excited about him.  This team will lack for pitching and will be thin offensively, making it a long season for Clipper faithful unless Mike Napoli stays there a good length of time which would definitely help this team overachieve.   Don't think he will be there very long, however, so I see his impact on the overall record being negligible.

Akron - 86-58 - I am going way out on a limb with this one.  However, looking at the roster it is stacked with pitching, returning quality hitting and fresh new prospects.   If the back end of the rotation can hold up and if the bullpen is even a tick above average, this could be a special season for the Rubber Ducks.

Lynchburg - 76-68 - Sometimes in more league ball stability on your roster produces good results, even on a roster devoid of star players.  I think this might be the case with this team.  I don't see one star prospect on this entire roster but maybe that means most of these guys will stay here the entire season giving this team stability in a league that is constantly in flux.

Lake Count - 72-72 - I see talent on this roster but little veteran leadership.   I could see as many as 8 of the guys on this roster someday playing in the majors but there is just no experienced leaders playing on this team so they will likely struggle with consistency of performance.   Where is Crash Davis when we need him?

There it is.   My 2018 minor league predictions.   Take with a grain of salt and call me in September.  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Prospects who NEED to have good seasons this year

There are two uses for prospects:  to fill in holes for guys leaving by free agency and to use as trade bait.   We have already talked about our top tier prospects and my choices for breakout prospects.   What about the guys in the middle?  Which ones do we need to have good seasons this year to help us win now and in the near future?

Will Benson - He is years away and his development path, right now, appears long.   However, if he hits his stride at Lake County this year he becomes really attractive trade bait.   As his ETA to the majors appears to be after our current window has closed, I think that is his best use.   To make that happen he needs to have a great year at low A.

Mark Mathias - for some reason we have fallen in love with draft college and HS guys who project as second basemen.   Mathias should be considered a breakout prospect for this year given last year.  However, I think he is still a good prospect.   If he performs will he puts himself in line to replace Jason Kipnis next year if we choose to trade Kip.   We need him to perform this year to give us flexibility both at the trade deadline and next off-season.

Eric Stamets - There is no room for this guy at the inn and likely never will be.   However, if he shows that last year's power surge was not a mirage, he becomes valuable as insurance in the middle infield AND as tradebait in July.

Cam Hill - We need him to continue his development.  I anticipate he will be in the majors at some point this year if he does and would be in line to contribute this year and in the future, ala Nick Goody.   We need him so we don't have to trade away prospects like we did for Joe Smith last year.  Even though Panonne was suspended, that trade still hurts.

Mike Papi - Something!  Anything!   I still say that this guy is looking to put it all together and, when he does, he will be a late bloomer.   I would like that bloom to occur this year and he comes out of nowhere to help the ML team.

Juan Hillman - He is a key to me.   He has everything you want in a young pitcher and just needs to put it all together.   If he does, he could net us a good return in July, a VERY good return.  Or he could just be on the radar for the future as we approach our next ML winning window in 2022.

Ulysses Cantu - It's like this guy is just right there.  Still, to me, he is a longshot to even make it to AA at this point.   But I have a feeling about this guy.   He needs to come up big this year.

Gabe Mejia - He has been injured but, if he puts a good season together I think he is trade bait in July.  With Greg Allen present, I doubt he ever gets to Cleveland but some club somewhere, maybe in the NL, still overvalues speed.

Mitch Longo - People like him more and more.  If he can reproduce last year he may have a spot in the future of this team.   I don't see a one-year wonder netting us much in trade return but I do see him advancing his worth so much that we keep him and he becomes untouchable by next year at this time.

Remaining Free Agents - Any Interest?

OK, the roster is set.   But is there anything we can do to protect ourselves in case of injury.   Let's look area by area on this roster and see where some insurance might be useful and who is still available and let's do it by area of biggest need to least need.

BULLPEN

Outlook-  Look, Matt Belisle could end up as this year's flavor of the month like Nick Goody, Tyler Olson and Dan Otero have been in the past.  In fact, I am OK with him as the last member of this bullpen and with our depth in the minors.   Still, looking at our relievers, I think we could use some insurance, especially from the left side and anticipate that there are one or even more guys on this list who, if they signed with the Indians, could get SIGNIFICANT innings in important situations this year.  I think we still need that insurance.   So, for relievers, let's look in depth at who is still available:

Greg Holland - If we weren't cash-strapped this one would make the most sense as Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Zach McAllister all become free agents after this season.   On a 2 year deal Holland might be a bridge to our next close-in-development, whoever that might be.   He would sure look good replacing Bryan Shaw in the 7th or 8th and as insurance in case Miller or Allen get hurt.  Not likely though.

Joe Blanton - Don't know about his physical condition but if he is healthy, he would look great on a minor league deal.  An ideal insurance policy in case someone gets hurt (nah, that never happens!)

Josh Collmenter - Ditto for Blanton although not the lock I see Blanton as in terms of being able to step into a competitive team and be effective.  

Jason Grilli - If he doesn't retire I don't see a fit.   41 year old guys don't want to go to AAA and that is where he would spend most of the season as I wouldn't even have him as my #1 or #2 minor league option.

Eric O'Flaherty - My choice for the stashed away minor league lefty.  Although his overall stats are pathetic in recent years, his left-on-left minors are still good.

Chad Qualls - Like Grilli, 39 year olds with lots of experience don't go to a club where their path to the majors is not a clear and clean one.

Zach Putnam - Unless he has no other options, I don't see him coming back to this club nor do I see them wanting him, especially when he might not be happy in the minors.

Drew Storen - Another guy I like and would stash in the minors.  I put him higher on my list than most of the other right handers available, especially as a 6th/7th inning, low pressure guy.

Huston Street - Could this guy really settle for a minor league deal?   I don't know but if the Indians could get him on one I would like the gamble.

OUTFIELD

We don't really need any of the remaining free agent outfielders but guys like Melky Cabrera, Andre Ethier, Seth Smith and Jose Bautista would all be interesting and useful pickups if we could sign them to minor league deals with a June 1st opt out clause.

STARTING PITCHER

You can never have too much pitching, right?  Still, what major league veteran who still thinks he has a lot in the tank would ever sign with a team that arguably has the best rotation in the majors?   No one, so that leaves out John Lackey, Ubaldo Jimenez, RA Dickey  and Matt Garza.  That leaves guys like Scott Feldman, Jeff Locke and Chris Smith.   I don't know what to make of Jake Peavy but that doesn't feel right to me for some reason.

INFIELD

Not a lot of need here so guys who would expect to play significantly like Brandon Phillips, Stpehen, Drew, JJ Hardy and Yunel Escobar would probably be out of the question.  Mike Aviles, Aaron Hill and Arismendy Alcantara would seem like the only fits for a minor league deal.

CATCHER

Really, we don't have a need here unless we can get someone who is willing to go to AA.   Like Crash Davis, a guy like Carolos Ruiz or Geovany Soto might be invaluable to help tutor some of our AA pitchers.   Don't think that will happen but you never know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Minor league thoughts for 2018

OK, going in blind to the 2018 minor league season which starts at the end of next week.

That being said, here are some thoughts about the season and possible breakout prospects

1. It is interesting that the Indians are fielding two AZL teams.   I don't know the reasoning as, just looking at last year, I can't reasonably see the need.   Yes, they had one DSL team and one co-op team but looking at the rosters of those teams in the most optimistic light, I can see MAYBE 25 players who would be ready for the AZL, based on their 2017 stats.  Where the Indians would get another 25 or so players is beyond me.  Looking at last year's AZL roster I can see maybe 12 guys who could be coming back to the AZL team this year.  That leaves minimally about 13 draftees who would be on this team.   Hey, it's never a bad idea to give guys more playing time but is it worth the expense?  So we will assume the Indians have a plan (maybe showcasing their younger players hoping some become prime trade bait in July?) but it seems odd that a low budget team would spend money this way.  It should be noted that they plan to repeat the second co-op team in the DSL league.

2. The Columbus and Akron teams may have a really tough time fielding 5 quality starting pitchers this year.  At the same time, with Bieber, Civale and McKenzie, they will definitely have some quality arms.  

3. Overall, the Indians will have an interesting minor league season.   They need to develop a lot more prospects and, for the most part, they have to have some more organizational players step up to become true blue chip prospects.   Hard to do but that is what they need as the 2018 draft won't be huge for the Indians given that they had such a good record last year that their draft slot is really low.

3. Here is my first look at breakout prospects this year.  These are guys who I think will vastly improve their prospect status during the season.
  • Zach Plesac
  • Will Benson
  • Ben Krauth
  • Justin Garza (LB State version)
  • Brady Aiken (this is an easy pick as his prospect status can't get any lower than it currently is)
Next we will take a look at the final minor league rosters that will post next week.